Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino launched his eighth homer of the year and collected three hits to lead No. 1 Kentucky to a 5-2 series-opening win over the defending league champion Vanderbilt Commodores, on Friday night at Hawkins Field.
Kentucky (36-7, 14-5 Southeastern Conference) extended its lead in the conference standings with the series-opening win. UK’s series-opening win was just its third in seven league weekends, with the Wildcats winning all six of its previous series. UK’s last series-opening win came over No. 10 Ole Miss on April 6.
The Wildcats were paced offensively by three hits from Cousino, including his eighth homer of the year. UK also got two hits from freshman A.J. Reed, with Luke Maile, Cameron Flynn, J.T. Riddle and Matt Reida recording hits. UK also got a walk from Zac Zellers and Thomas McCarthy, with McCarthy laying down a sacrifice bunt.
UK starter Taylor Rogers (5-2) finished one out shy of a quality start, tossing 5.2 innings, allowing seven hits and two runs, not issuing a walk and striking out four. Alex Phillips replaced him with the bases loaded and two down in the sixth, getting a fly out to get out of the jam. Phillips worked the final 3.1 innings without allowing a hit, walking one and striking out three for his fifth save of the year.
Vanderbilt (19-23, 7-12 SEC) starter TJ Pecoraro (0-2) worked 1.2 innings, allowing five hits and four runs, walking four and striking out two. Brian Miller got Pecoraro out of a jam in the second inning, working a strong 3.1 innings, allowing only one unearned run, walking one and striking out two. Steven Rice got VU out of the jam in the sixth, working 3.1 innings, allowing only one hit and no runs, striking out three. Drew Verhagen got the final out of the eighth inning.
The series will resume on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET at Hawkins Field. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, available in Central Kentucky on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080 and online at UKathletics.com.
UK got on the board with two runs on three hits in the first inning, as Cousino led off with a single to centerfield, stealing second base and taking third on a Reed one-out groundout. Maile then scored Cousino with a two-out single to leftfield, with Flynn then singling to right and Zellers drawing a walk to load the bases, with Maile scoring on a balk.
The Wildcats added a pair of runs to their lead in the second inning, as Reida drew a one-out walk, scoring on Cousino’s eighth homer of the year, sailing into the bleachers in rightfield.
In the third inning, Vanderbilt got two runs back on two hits, cutting the UK lead to 4-2. Connor Harrell led off with a hard-hit double into the left-centerfield gap, scoring after John Norwood painted a bloop double down the opposite-field line. After Tony Kemp’s bloop single into no-man’s land in leftfield and a sacrifice bunt from Mike Yastrzemski, Anthony Gomez scored Norwood with a RBI groundout.
The Wildcats got a run back in the top of the fifth but were victimized by a close call on what would have been a two-out, two-RBI single that was called a line-drive out on a diving play in leftfield. Flynn reached on a hard-hit, two-out error charged by Kemp at second base. Zellers then got plunked by his team-high 18th pitch of the year and Riddle smashed a single up the middle to score Flynn from second base. Williams then followed with what could have been a single into leftfield but the ball was ruled to be caught on an outstretched diving snag, erasing the two runs that scored on the single.