LEXINGTON, Ky. -- All-America two-way standout A.J. Reed belted his fourth home run in his last six games and freshman right-hander Kyle Cody picked up his first career win, leading No. 7 Kentucky to a 6-3 win over Xavier, on Wednesday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (11-1) plated an early run in the first inning but the Musketeers turned three inning-ending double plays and took a 2-1 lead after four complete frames. UK rallied to regain the lead on the strength of Max Kuhn’s two-RBI double in the fifth inning, adding single runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to secure the win.
“It helps us in a couple ways,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said about the benefits of a grind-it-out win over Xavier. “First, the game is close and also we had a chance to get frustrated and lose our poise in the first four innings when they had three double plays that kept that game close. We had a chance to bust it open three or four times and we didn’t do it, so it forced us to either panic or keep our poise and I thought our guys did a really good job at the plate. Our bullpen was good again, we aren’t perfect down there, but we do a pretty good job I was really happy with Walt (Wijas), (Chandler Shepherd) Shep and (Trevor) Gott. We made some nice defensive plays again.”
Reed launched his Southeastern Conference-leading fifth homer of the year in the seventh inning, a towering blast over the 30-foot high wall in rightfield. The SEC, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week, Reed had hit homers in four of his last six games. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound extended his hitting streak to a club-high nine games, batting .457 (16-for-35) with five homers and 20 RBI during that stretch. In 2013, Reed has a .426 average with a double, triple, five homers and 23 RBI, sporting a .526 on-base and a .809 slugging percentage.
“It’s a fun part of the game,” Henderson said about Reed’s first 12 games. “It’s fun when you get good kids like that. It’s more fun when they are on your team. You will see kids get in a groove like that and he is certainly in one of those grooves. He is squaring it good.”
After Central Kentucky was blanketed with three inches of snow overnight, the UK sports turf department, UK administration, baseball managers and trainers spent the day preparing the playing surface for an oasis in the wintery conditions.
“I was really pleased with Kyle (Cody), he had five innings with no walks,” Henderson said. “He got two outs in the fourth inning and got a little excited and rushed. He left a couple balls up for the middle of the order and they hit him hard. Besides that he did really good. It was a really good game from Kyle and it was a solid improvement from last time.”
Rated as the 39th-best freshman in college baseball in the preseason by Baseball America, Cody (1-0) worked a career-long five innings, allowing four hits and two runs, not issuing and walk and striking out three. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound native of Chippewa Falls, Wis., made his second career start on Wednesday and after allowing a leadoff single in the top of the first, retired nine consecutive hitters, before a two-out, two-run rally in the fourth inning.
“Today, I was a lot more focused and I knew what I had to do,” Cody said. “I took my struggles from last game and I worked on changing it for the better. I tried to get ahead of the batters and tried to get the ball down. I didn’t do that against Murray. I just needed to get ahead. Once I got ahead, I had to put my secondary pitch low in the zone.”
Senior Walter Wijas started the sixth inning, working 1.2 innings, allowing two hits and no runs, striking out one. Chandler Shepherd came on to get out of the seventh with a runner at second and two outs, getting out of the jam and working 1.1 innings, allowing a two-out run in the eighth inning, walking one and striking out one.
Junior right-hander Trevor Gott came on to start the ninth in a save chance, getting the final three outs for his second save of the year and the 13th of his three-year UK career. A native of Lexington, Ky., Gott pulls into a tie for second all-time in UK career history, equaling Paul Morse (1993-94) and just two saves shy of the program record, held by Lorhn Frazier (1990-93).
A preseason All-America selection and the first consensus first team freshman All-America honoree in UK history, Reed led UK with a 2-for-3 game with an RBI and a pair of walks. Kuhn and Micheal Thomas also collected two-hit games, with Kuhn going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBI.
“He (Kuhn) has really seen it well,” Henderson said. “First three weeks, he has showed very little chase and a lot of solid contact. He looks like he is going to get a hit every time he steps in the box. He is playing well defensively. Max is in a good place right now.”
Thomas went 2-for-3 with a run scored with Austin Cousino, Zac Zellers, J.T. Riddle and Paul McConkey adding hits. Lucas Witt and Matt Reida each drew walks, with Witt also getting plunked by a pitch and stealing a base.
“Micheal (Thomas) has done a really good job for 12 games, and so has Matt Reida,” Henderson said. “The bottom third of our lineup is producing and we need to keep doing that as that is what good teams do. You have to apply pressure at the bottom as well.”
Xavier (3-7) starter Scott Flever (1-1) worked five innings, allowing four runs on eight hits – three earned – walking four and striking out two. Both of his walks were intentional to avoid Reed, the reigning national player of the week. Jacob Bodner, Jarred Marks, Zach Johnson, Daniel Przeniczny and Alex Vice each worked in relief for the Musketeers.
UK will return to action with a three-game series with Michigan State, starting at 4 p.m. ET on Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
With Cody keeping Xavier scoreless in the top half of the first, Kentucky jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Zellers found his way on base with a one-out single up the middle, before advancing to third on a single into rightfield from Reed. Riddle drove a ball into deep right center to allow Zellers to tag and score on the sacrifice fly.
The Musketeers put up a two spot in the top of the fourth, taking a 2-1 lead through four and a half. With a runner on first, Vinny Nittoli knocked a double over Cousino’s head in deep centerfield. The two-out double scored Bruening and tied the game at 1-1. Patrick Paligraf matched Nittoli’s extra base hit with a double down the leftfield line, scoring Nittoli and giving Xavier its first lead of the game.
The Wildcats regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth on a two-out double from Kuhn. Thomas led off the inning with a base knock up the middle. With two outs and Thomas on second, Xavier chose to intentionally walk Reed for a second time. An infield single to the right side from Riddle loaded the bases with two down. Ahead in the count, Kuhn drilled a double down the leftfield line, bringing home Thomas and Reed to give Kentucky a 3-2 lead.
Kentucky extended its lead in the bottom of the sixth, sparked by a leadoff walk from McConkey. McConkey advanced to second on a botched pickoff attempt and Witt walked to give UK runners on first and second. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third and forced Xavier to head to the bullpen, bringing in Jacob Bodner. A wild pitch from Bodner allowed McConkey to score from third and move Witt to third. Witt was left stranded on third but Kentucky had increased its lead to 4-2.
Reed blasted his fifth homer of the year over the rightfield fence to increase Kentucky’s lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh.
“When pitchers come out of the pen they are usually looking to get ahead,” Reed said about hitting the first pitch of a lefty-lefty matchup over the fence in the seventh. “Especially, when there is lefty-lefty match up. I am just seeing the ball well right now. It’s not simple, but when it’s going good it’s going good. I am trying to just get my pitch and put a good swing on it, and I have been doing a pretty good job of it lately.”
The Musketeers brought the game within two runs in the top of the eighth, scoring one run to soften the Kentucky lead to 5-3. With one out, Xavier leadoff man Mark Elwell walked and advanced to second with two outs on a ground out to first. Derek Hasenbeck drove a double into rightfield, scoring Elwell and leaving the Musketeers trailing 5-3.
Kentucky added an insurance run for Gott in the bottom of the eighth. A hit by pitch for Witt, a Reida walk and another hit by pitch for Thomas loaded the bases with no outs for Kentucky. Xavier went to Alex Vice in the bullpen to face the top of the order for Kentucky. With one out, Zellers flew out to deep rightfield, allowing Witt to tag from third and score. Vice left the two remaining Kentucky baserunners stranded but the Wildcats had tabbed an additional run, bringing the score to 6-3 for Gott entering the ninth.
GAMES NOTES: Kentucky is now 6-0 at home this season, including 12 straight wins… Gary Henderson owns a 95-38 career mark at Cliff Hagan Stadium … Kentucky is now 3-0 on the season wearing blue tops and white pants … Junior J.T. Riddle made his team-high 78th consecutive start … Zac Zellers extended his hitting streak to five games with a first-inning single … A.J. Reed extended his hitting streak to a team-high nine games in the first inning … Riddle hung his first sacrifice fly of the year and the 10th of his career in the first … Micheal Thomas extended his hitting streak to six games with a third-inning single … Reed was intentionally walked twice, giving him his first career two-walk game since Feb. 26, 2012 … Max Kuhn ripped his third double of the year… Kuhn has now reached base safely in all 12 games this year … Riddle is now 31-59 at the plate this season, batting .525 … Chandler Shepherd has now inherited eight runners allowing only three to score … Reed blasted his fifth home run of the season, ninth of his career … Max Kuhn ripped his fourth double of the season … Kyle Cody worked a career long five innings … Lucas Witt was plunked by his second career HBP, 11th on his career … Witt swiped his fifth bag of the year and 13th of career … Thomas collected his fourth career multi-hit game and third during the 2013 campaign … Kentucky has outscored opponents 26-6 during the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings this season … Zellers recorded his third sac fly of the year and fourth during his career … Trevor Gott earned his 13th career save and second on the season, putting him two saves away from the all-time Kentucky lead.