SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Junior second baseman J.T. Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6 game at the plate and starter Jerad Grundy tied a career-best with nine strikeouts in six innings, sparking No. 8 Kentucky to a 20-3 pounding of Niagara, on Sunday afternoon at Wofford’s Russell C. King Field.
Kentucky (2-0) was led in the shellacking of Niagara by the electric bat of Riddle, whose 6-for-6 game set a new UK modern-era record (2002-present), charting a triple off the centerfield wall and a double, finishing just a homer shy of hitting for the cycle. He is the first UK player to collect five or more hits since Marcus Nidiffer went 5-for-6 at Indiana in 2010. In his first two games of 2013, Riddle is 9-for-11 with five runs, three doubles, one triple and four RBI.
“It felt great up there,” Riddle said. “It looks like a beach ball right now. I am putting good swings on it, just staying with my techniques and doing what I have to do to get base hits. Whether it is with two strikes or early in the count I am just putting good swings on the ball and a couple of them fell in for me last game.”
A native of Frankfort, Ky., and the 2010 Kentucky High School Mr. Baseball, Riddle also owns a 1.273 slugging percentage through his first two contests after pelting the leftfield and rightfield walls with doubles in the opener and the triple off the 15-foot wall in centerfield vs. NU.
“J.T. is just a better player,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “He is more composed, he has always had good composure but it is even better. He is strong. His skill level is improved. He is more disciplined at the plate. Obviously he has better bat speed and the strength issue is really obvious. He is a really, really good player and he has gotten off to a good start.”
Grundy (1-0) worked six innings, allowing four hits and two unearned runs, walking one and striking out a career-high tying nine. Sophomore Jeff Boehm took over to start the seventh, working one inning with one run surrendered. Freshman righty Tyler Cox tossing a shutout eighth inning and freshman Zach Strecker made his debut with a shutout ninth inning.
“Jerad had a nice night for us,” Henderson said. “Some things that were very noticeable were that in the fourth inning he started to find his secondary stuff and in the fifth inning his velocity stepped up. (He was) much better in the fourth and fifth. He had to throw a few extra pitches in the sixth because we kicked it around a little bit, but a really good outing for Jerad to get the season going.”
The Wildcats collected 20 runs on 17 hits, nine walks and three hit batters, also swiping three bases. It was UK’s first 20-run output since a beating of Illinois-Chicago in 2012.
“You like a lot of things,” Henderson said about UK’s offensive attack. “I liked the quality of at bats even from some of the guys who didn’t get a lot of hits. I thought Matt Reida had a nice night. A.J. had some really good at bats early on. Max Kuhn is looking comfortable. Really happy for Thomas Bernal to get in there and have the at bats that he did. Zellers had good at bats, Greg Fettes came in off the bench and had a couple really nice swings. There were a lot of positives – Micheal Thomas – just a great day at the plate for us.”
UK was led by Riddle’s historic game at the dish, with sophomore All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino launching his first career grand slam in his six innings of action, setting a new career-high with four RBI.
Shortstop Matt Reida – who made a pair of sparkling defensive gems up the middle, including starting an impressive double play with Riddle – tied his career highs with three hits and three RBI. Max Kuhn went 1-for-4 with two walks and an RBI, with Thomas Bernal going 2-for-5 with three runs scored and a walk. Zac Zellers scored two runs, drew a walk and had an RBI in the No. 2 spot in the order, while catcher Micheal Thomas went 1-for-2 with two runs and two RBI.
UK played several position players in their collegiate debuts, including Jacob Russell, Andrew Bryant, Kyle Barrett, Dorian Hairston, Greg Fettes, Casey Schroeder and Zach Arnold. Fettes went 2-for-2 while Hairston collected his first career hit.
“It helps moral and it is big,” Henderson said about the ability to play lots of newcomers. “Those guys have been practicing for a long time. We had a couple guys out there who redshirted last year, the first at bat for AB (Andrew Bryant) and the first inning for Zach (Strecker). It was a really encouraging outing. We had Jeff Boehm get some at bats and pitch an inning. Tyler Cox and Dorian Hairston, I am sure I am forgetting some, but we got a bunch of guys it’s really encouraging.”
“It was awesome. All the freshmen out there and guys who haven’t had a chance to swing the bat in a UK jersey, it is just awesome to get them out there,” Riddle said. “We are behind them all the way because they have worked so hard to get to where they are at. It is just fun to see them out there and the older guys all had their back, pitchers and hitters.”
Niagara (0-3) started Kody Kasper (0-1) worked 2.1 innings, allowing five hits and seven runs – four earned – walking five. NU used Jacob Lysiak, Geoff Soja, Jordan Schwartz, Sean Quinlan, Ben Zaccagnino and Connor Sullivan in relief of Kasper.
UK will return to action on Monday, facing USC Upstate at Harley Park at 1 p.m. ET. UK will send junior southpaw Corey Littrell to the mound to face the Spartans. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Sports Network, with Dick Gabriel on the call. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WWTF 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
The contest was played despite Spartanburg being blanketed with heavy snow on Saturday, which forced the postponement of the USC Upstate game to Monday. A combined herculean effort of hard-working Wofford student-athletes and staff, and Kentucky’s coaches and administrators, worked throughout the afternoon to clear the field of snow, with UK purchasing 17 snow shovels to assist with the snow vacating.
Kentucky got on the board in the top of the first inning with a two-out rally. After a pair of groundouts started the game, A.J. Reed drew a full-count walk. Riddle the followed with a towering triple off the centerfield wall, with Reed scoring from first base to give UK an early 1-0 lead.
Niagara answered with an unearned run in the bottom of the first, evening the game at 1-1. Joel Klock led off with a grounder to first base that was chested up by Bernal, but bounced into foul ground for an error. Michael Fuhrman then singled through the left side. After Klock was out on a fielder’s choice as the lead runner, Grundy got a strike out for the second out. Christian Vangeison then singled up the middle to score Fuhrman with an unearned run.
The Wildcats batted around in the second inning, scoring four runs on two hits and three errors. Lucas Witt led off the inning by reaching on an error and Bernal drew a walk. Reida then laid down his 16th career sacrifice bunt, with Witt motoring from second base to score on the bunt. The throw back to the plate from first sailed to the backstop for an error, allowing Bernal to move to third. Thomas then smashed a single through the left side to score Bernal and after a Cousino pop up, Zellers drew a walk and Reed reached on an error. After a wild pitch, Thomas scored on a passed ball and then Riddle drove in Zellers with an RBI single through the right side.
UK stretched its lead in the third inning, as Bernal led off with a double in the game for his first career extra-base hit. Reida then singled with a high chopper over the drawn-in infield to push Bernal to third. Thomas then hung a sacrifice fly to leftfield to score Bernal. Cousino followed with a four-pitch walk to chase Kasper. With Zellers up, Cousino and Reida executed the double steal to put a pair of runners in scoring position. Zellers then drove a fly ball to rightfield to plate Reida with UK’s seventh run.
UK added to its lead in the fourth inning, as Riddle led off with a double into the right-centerfield gap, scoring after Kuhn drilled a triple into the gap, with Kuhn scoring after the relay sailed into the dugout. Witt then drew a walk and Bernal lined a double into the left-centerfield gap. After a Reida groundout, Thomas reached on an unconventional fielder’s choice to load the bases for Cousino. Cousino delivered his first career grand slam with a bomb over the rightfield fence, giving UK a 13-1 lead.
In the fifth inning, Riddle led off with a pop up in the infield that dropped as a single, moving to second after Kuhn was hit by a pitch. After a strike out, Bernal scored Riddle on a RBI groundout to second base. Reida followed with a fly ball to leftfield that went unclaimed by the leftfield, dropping as a single with Reida out at second base with Kuhn scoring from third.
Kentucky kept rallying in the top of the sixth inning, as Fettes led off with a double into the gap, with Russell joining him on first base after a fielding error. Zellers then got hit by a pitch to load the bases and Boehm reached on a fielder’s choice, with Fettes out at the plate. Riddle then collected his fifth hit of the game as an RBI single through the left side. Kuhn then drew a walk, with Russell scoring on a wild pitch during his at bat. After Kuhn drew a walk, Barrett hung a sacrifice fly to leftfield to score Zellers.
Niagara got a run back in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Taylor Hackett led off with a fly ball to leftfield that was not claimed and dropped in front of Barrett making his collegiate debut. Kevin Paulsen then flied out to leftfield, with the ball bouncing out of Barrett’s glove for an error. After a fielder’s choice got Hackett out at third, Chris Vangeison doubled into the gap to score Paulsen.
Niagara scored a run in the bottom of the seventh as Greg Rogers singled and scored on Hackett’s double.
UK plated two runs in the top of the eighth inning to takes its lead to 20-3. Riddle led off the inning with his sixth hit of the game, taking second on a wild pitch. Hairston then scored him with his first career hit as an RBI single up the middle. Reida then pushed Hairston home with an RBI single.