LEXINGTON, Ky. -- No. 27 Kentucky – the NCAA leader in runs – got homers from Micheal Thomas and JaVon Shelby and eight innings from starter A.J. Reed, to post a 13-5 win over No. 1 South Carolina – the NCAA’s ERA leader – in the series opener on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (16-6, 2-2 SEC) jumped all over South Carolina after the Gamecocks took a lead with a top-of-the-first-inning run. UK plated three in the bottom of the first, six in the second, one in the third and three in the fifth inning to hand the Gamecocks just their second loss in the first 20 games to open the year.
The Wildcats collected 13 runs on 14 hits, three walks, three hit batters and two homers. UK stole five bases against a stingy South Carolina pitching staff that had allowed only four steals in 20 games entering the series, with UK snapping the Gamecocks streak of 62 straight innings without allowing a steal. UK also snapped USC’s bullpen streak of 65.2 consecutive innings pitched without allowing a run.
The win for UK was its second in 2014 against a No. 1 ranked team and marked the fourth in the last three years under head coach Gary Henderson, after the Wildcats scored just one win over a top-ranked foe from 2003-08. UK opened the season on Feb. 14 with an 8-3 smashing of No. 1 Virginia, also getting a six-steal game in that rout of the Hoos.
“We don’t really look at rankings very much,” Reed said. “We think we’re just as good as any team in the country so we’ll go out there and play our game and compete with anybody.”
UK was led at the plate by a career-high 3-for-4 game from first baseman Thomas Bernal. UK got a three-run homer from Thomas – his fourth of the year – and a solo shot from Shelby – his second of 2014 – as its big blows in the game. All nine UK starters collected hits, with seven of nine players charting RBI. UK got two-hit games from Reed, Max Kuhn and Matt Reida, with Kyle Barrett, Austin Cousino each notching hits. Cousino stole his 10th and 11th bases of the year, with UK also getting a hit from Ka’ai Tom.
“You got to look at what we did offensively, (Jordan) Montgomery is good, and we took advantage of some balls he left up,” Henderson said. “We got some really quality at-bats and we have to give a lot of credit to our hitters.”
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed (4-1) worked eight innings, allowing nine hits and five runs – three earned – not issuing a walk and striking out two.
“I really thought A.J. was overly excited early on, he flattened out obviously,” Reed said. “Once he settled down a little bit and going into the third, fourth, and fifth, he got some softer contact but even though he wasn’t great, we look up there and it’s three through seven, and we obviously gave them two in the eighth, but A.J. goes seven (innings) and gives up three (runs) to the No.1 team in the country. It wasn’t his best but that’s the kind of effort we have come to expect from him.”
Of Reed’s four wins in his first six starts to open 2014, two came against the No. 1 team in college baseball, working the win over UVA in the season lidlifter.
“Today, I just really focused on throwing more strikes and the quality of strikes,” Reed said. “I have been struggling to throw in the zone the last couple of starts and that was a big thing for me today. Working ahead in the count is always a big thing for us and being able to throw secondary for strikes. For the most part I did a pretty good job with that tonight, I don’t think I had any walks which was good and gave us a chance to win.”
The nation’s home run leader, Reed worked his fifth quality start in six starts in 2014, marking the 14th quality start of his three-year career. On the year, Reed has a 4-1 record and a 2.20 ERA in 41 innings.
“It was good,” Reed said. “It feels good to get a win out here on a Friday night, get the early lead in the series and come out here tomorrow and try to win the series.”
UK freshman Zack Brown worked the ninth inning, getting a strikeout and a double play ball to erase a one-out single.
South Carolina (18-2, 2-2 SEC) entered the week leading the NCAA with a 1.36 team ERA. USC starter Jordan Montgomery (3-2) worked two innings, allowing 10 hits and nine runs – seven earned – walking one and striking out two. Montgomery entered the start with the Wildcats owning a 15-3 record and a 2.62 ERA in his career.