GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino went 3-for-5 with four RBI and his fourth homer of the year, a double and a steal, leading No. 9 Kentucky to a series-evening 11-5 win over Florida, on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in front of 3,120 at McKethan Stadium.
Kentucky (15-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) trailed 3-0 entering the top of the sixth inning, with Florida ace right-hander Jonathon Crawford twirling a two-hit gem. Kentucky rallied with two runs to get within striking distance before igniting for a five-run seventh inning to take a 7-3 lead, with Cousino smacking the go-ahead two-RBI single.
UK added a four-run ninth inning to stretch its lead, with Cousino’s two-run homer off the videoboard in rightfield highlighting the offensive explosion.
Cousino led the Wildcats at the plate with his 3-for-5 game, driving in four RBI and stealing his seventh base of the year. In 2013, Cousino has hit .319 with four doubles, four homers, 15 RBI and is a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen base tries.
“It is really nice to see Austin now two days into (SEC play),” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “Really good to see him get hot again. His swings were good. His bat speed is good. He is seeing it well; laying off the bad pitches, all the things you do when it is going your way. Really glad to see him get hot.”
“Coming into Saturday we wanted to even it up,” Cousino said. “Friday didn’t go the way we planned. We got some great innings out of (Jerad) Grundy, even though his stuff wasn’t top notch, or up to his ability. He battled hard and the offense came through in the sixth inning with (Kyle) Barrett and A.J. (Reed) that is what you have to do in these league games.”
UK got a big hit from A.J. Reed, who tripled home the first run of the game in the sixth inning as the Wildcats started to claw back into the game. Reed went 1-for-3 with two RBI and a walk, with Zac Zellers, J.T. Riddle, Max Kuhn and Micheal Thomas each adding hits. Thomas doubled for the first time in 2013 and Riddle added a pair of RBI, with Kyle Barrett and Matt Reida each recording RBI.
UK senior starter Jerad Grundy (4-1) turned in his fourth quality start of the year, despite battling through the first two frames with three runs allowed on five hits.
“Some days you come out there and you really don’t have your best stuff and you really have to rely on the teammates behind you and that is what I did today,” Grundy said.
“The first thing was Jerad Grundy,” Henderson said what he liked from the team on Saturday. “Obviously (he had) no rhythm at all in the first two innings and the ability to find it and get through the second, put up the four zeros and give us a chance.”
Grundy settled in to work six innings, allowing six hits and three runs, walking four on 82 pitches. The Johnsburg, Ill., native allowed only one two-out single after the second inning.
“It was more just settling down,” Grundy said about getting in a grove after the second inning. “I was probably a little excited opening the SEC and the first couple innings, leaving a couple balls up, being early with my pitches. I settled down and got to hang four zeros after that.”
“The poise,” Henderson said about what impressed him about Grundy. “Nothing special about his pitches today. His concentration was good. His toughness was outstanding. The ability to simply maintain his poise and get through the innings, pitch with guys on base, get out of some jams. I was impressed with Jerad’s overall performance. It was the first time all year that he has really struggled with his rhythm.
“He set a good example for our club. It is a tough game, there is a lot of failure and sometimes it doesn’t go your way and his ability to get through that was really, really important for us today.”
Kentucky sophomore Chandler Shepherd worked 1.2 innings in the seventh and eighth, allowing three hits and one run, walking one. With the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning and a 1-1 count to Mike Fahrman, UK turned to Trevor Gott, who got two strikes to escape the jam. Gott recorded the final three outs in the ninth – working around an error and a walk – striking out two for his sixth save of the year. Gott owns 17 saves in his three-year career, stretching his UK career record.
The series will conclude at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday at McKethan Stadium, with the Wildcats looking for their first series win at Florida since 1999 and just the fourth all-time series win in Gainesville in the history of the program.
The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. UK will send junior All-America left-hander Corey Littrell (2-0, 3.22 ERA) to the mound to face Florida freshman righty Eric Handhold (0-1, 6.39 ERA).
Florida’s (9-11, 1-1 SEC) right-handed ace Crawford (0-3) worked six innings, allowing only three hits, surrendering five runs on four walks and two strikeouts.
“He has some electric stuff,” Cousino said about his former USA National Team teammate Jonathon Crawford. “I got to know him over the summer. A great kid. When you face big arms like that you really have to capitalize in any way you can. He shut us down there for a little bit, we got him in the sixth. That is what we are going to face in every SEC weekend. We have to be prepared for that no matter what name comes up.”
UF’s Bobby Poyner came on in the seventh to face left-handed hitters, getting one out, and allowing three hits and two runs. Mike Vinson, Corey Stump and Aaron Rhodes worked in relief for the Gators.
The Gators scored in their first opportunity, as Harrison Bader singled down the leftfield line with one out, taking second on Justin Shafer’s sacrifice bunt. Vickash Ramjit then singled through the left side, with Matt Reida’s diving attempt coming up just short, allowing Bader to score from second.
Florida added to its lead in the bottom of the second, as Josh Tobias worked the count to 3-1, then smashed his second career homer – and second in as many days – over the leftfield fence.
UK got on the board in the top of the sixth, as Zellers led off with a walk to bring up Reed. Reed smashed a triple down the rightfield line to score Zellers from first base. Riddle followed with a groundout to the right side to force in Reed with the second UK run of the game.
In the seventh, UK mounted a furious rally to take the lead and chase Crawford from the mound. Barrett drew a leadoff walk and while Thomas was trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt he was hit by a pitch. Reida then loaded the bases with a walk for Cousino. Cousino smashed a first-pitch single into leftfield to score two and give UK a 4-3 lead. Zellers followed with a perfect bunt single down the third base line to bring up Reed, who hung a sacrifice fly to centerfield to score Thomas. Riddle then singled to centerfield to score Reida and Barrett was plunked with a two-out, bases-loaded pitch to force in a run.
“That gave us some life,” Henderson said about Reed’s RBI triple. “J.T. knocked him in and it was a 3-2 ballgame. We had been pretty lifeless through the first five and then the second half of the game the quality of our at bats got better and we played with a lot more intensity and it was good to see us finally get a few hits.”
Florida immediately answered in the bottom of the seventh, plating a run. Casey Turgeon reached on a one-out walk, taking second on a wild pitch and scoring on Bader’s RBI double into the left-centerfield gap.
Kentucky added four insurance runs in the ninth, as Kuhn led off with a walk, taking second on Thomas Bernal’s sacrifice bunt. Lucas Witt then drew a walk and Thomas doubled down the leftfield line to score Kuhn. Reida forced in Witt with a well-placed groundout and Cousino belted a two-run homer over the rightfield fence, with his monster homer bouncing off the top of the videoboard in rightfield.
In the ninth, Florida plated a run for the final margin, 11-5. Turgeon drew a leadoff walk and Bader reached on a fielding error up the middle. A pair of groundouts scored Turgeon with the unearned run, with Ramjit forcing in the run with a slow roller to Reed at first base.