LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Austin Cousino belted a first-inning homer and made an immaculate run-saving catch in centerfield, and Max Kuhn smashed a game-winning solo bomb in the eighth inning to lead No. 7 Kentucky to a 2-1 win over Michigan State in the series opener, on Friday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Wildcats battled Michigan State in a close contest in the series opener, with Cousino’s run-saving catch in the seventh and his first-inning solo homer providing the difference entering the eighth inning. After the Spartans plated the game-tying run with a two-out bloop single into shallow centerfield in the top of the eighth inning, Kuhn led off the bottom of the frame.
Kuhn, a sophomore third baseman, ripped a 1-1 fastball over the fence in leftfield – his first career home run – to lift the Wildcats to a 2-1 lead.
“At first, I was surprised to see that they put the lefty back in as they had a righty in the bullpen,” Kuhn said. “The lefty threw a fastball down the middle and threw another one. I figured he might as well challenge me again. I was ready for the fastball and put a good swing on it. I got a good piece of it. Once, I saw it go in the air I knew it had enough to go over. It means a lot. It couldn’t have come at a better time as it gave us the lead. I had a lot of emotions running through my body but also it was a good team win.”
“Max (Kuhn) keeps getting better and he got a big hit at a big moment,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “He has done a good job with runners on base and done a good job at third base (defensively). He has done a really good job of swinging at strikes and looking at balls. He has come through several times when we needed him just like he did in the eighth.”
UK then turned to right-hander Trevor Gott, working a perfect ninth inning with one strikeout for his third save of 2013 and the 14th of his three-year career. In his career, Gott has worked 15.1 innings in his 14 saves, allowing only three hits and no runs, walking three and striking out 24.
Cousino’s catch came with one out and the tying run at first base in the seventh inning, ranging far to his left on a hard-hit ball from Jimmy Pickens. Cousino leapt fully extended into the gap, making a staggering catch while sliding into the base of the right-centerfield wall. The All-America centerfielder and preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, went 2-for-4 with his third homer of the year at the plate.
Kentucky (12-1) – which entered the week leading the NCAA in runs scored per game – have now extend its winning streak to nine games and stretch the home win streak to 14.
The Wildcats got a dominating start from sophomore southpaw A.J. Reed, who turned in the best start of his career. The two-way standout, who earned National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, SEC and Louisville Slugger Player of the Week honors earlier this week, worked seven shutout innings, allowing only five singles and two walks, striking out five.
“I was just out there trying to throw strikes and keep the ball low,” Reed said. “In my last couple outings, I hadn’t done a very good job of that, so I was just trying to throw some low strikes. Defense was great. We had a couple double plays and (Austin) Cousino had a great catch. I was just trying to throw the ball down and work on my off-speed. My change-up and cutter were good today.”
“I liked the fact the he (A.J. Reed) keeps getting better,” Henderson said. “When the game got tight and they had runners in scoring position he made his best pitches. He got some defensive help in the sixth and the seventh.”
Kentucky got two-hit games from Cousino, Kuhn, J.T. Riddle and Lucas Witt. Kuhn went 2-for-3 with his SEC-leading 15th walk of the year. A 24th round draft pick out of high school, Kuhn has hit .370 (17-for-46) in 2013 with four doubles, one triple, one homer and 15 RBI, stealing five bases and owning a 15-6 walk-strikeout ratio.
Riddle, a native of Frankfort, Ky., went 2-for-4 for his sixth multiple-hit game of the year, and now has at least a hit in 12 of 13 games in 2013. Witt finished 2-for-4, with Matt Reida and Thomas Bernal each adding hits.
UK turned to Walter Wijas to start the eighth inning on the mound and UK nursing a 2-1 lead. MSU got a leadoff single off the senior righty, with Wijas getting a pair of outs before UK turned to freshman Dylan Dwyer (1-0) to face a left-handed hitter with the game-tying run at second base. Michigan State plopped a single into shallow centerfield to score the tying run, before Dwyer got out of the eighth-inning jam. Gott then sealed the win with his dominating three outs to pick up the save.
Michigan State (5-6) starter Andrew Waszak turned in his fourth consecutive strong start to open the year, working 6.1 innings, allowing eight hits and one run, walking one and striking out three. Anthony Misiewicz (1-1) took the loss, allowing two hits and one run, with closer Justin Alleman tossing a shutout inning to finish the eighth.
The series will resume on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with Dick Gabriel voicing the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WWTF 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com. UK will send senior Jerad Grundy (3-0, 0.43 ERA) to the mound to face MSU junior righty David Garner (2-0, 4.50 ERA).
Cousino gave UK an early lead with a first-pitch homer over the rightfield fence, his third of the year. Cousino’s leadoff homer was his first since a homer to open the game with Cincinnati on April 17, 2012, his 19th birthday.
Wijas started the eighth for the Wildcats, with Joel Fisher leading off with a single through the left side. After Justin Hovis’ laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Fisher to second base, Wijas got a strikeout of John Martinez. UK then turned to Dwyer to face speedy left-handed hitting leadoff man Cam Gibson. Michigan State countered with left-handed hitting Ryan Krill to face Dwyer with the tying run at second and two out. Krill sent a Texas leaguer into shallow centerfield to score Fisher and even the game at 1-1.
Kuhn watched a first-pitch ball and then a strike from the lefty Misiewicz to start the eighth inning, before smashing a no-doubt blast over the leftfield fence to give UK the 2-1 lead. The homer was Kuhn’s first of his career.