LEXINGTON, Ky. -- All-America slugger A.J. Reed belted a three-run homer and right-hander Chandler Shepherd worked 5.2 two-hit innings of relief, leading No. 8 Kentucky to a 11-5 win over Murray State in the 2013 home opener, on Tuesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Shepherd (1-0) dazzled in his longest career relief outing, working 5.2 innings with only two singles allowed and striking out a career-high six. The native of Louisa, Ky., dominated his way through the middle innings in relief of freshman Kyle Cody, who made his first career start. He came into the game with UK and the ‘Breds tied 4-4 in the third inning, with the Wildcats in a two-out, bases-loaded jam, escaping the frame and allowing only an unearned run in his outing.
“In that situation, you just want to throw strikes, get outs and groundballs,” Shepherd said about coming in for relief. “The main thing I was focusing on was staying ahead. It felt great to get the win. We got the crucial runs when we needed it and were played some great defense. It was a good win for the club and we will try to use it going into tomorrow and this weekend.”
Reed’s blast got the Wildcats off to a hot start, belting a three-run bomb in the bottom of the first inning, his second homer of the year. UK also got a multiple-hit game from junior shortstop Matt Reida, who went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored. Austin Cousino, Lucas Witt, J.T. Riddle, Greg Fettes and Micheal Thomas each added hits, with Riddle extending his team-long hitting streak to 10 games. Sophomore Max Kuhn went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks and an RBI.
The lack of arid weather forced a delay of three hours in the home lidlifter, with Kentucky (6-1) emerging out of the delay with its sixth consecutive home win and its 14th consecutive home-opening win, dating back to 1999.
A 6-foot-7, 230-pound Wisconsin native, Cody worked 2.2 innings, allowing six hits and four runs – three earned – walking two and striking out two. Shepherd then chewed up valuable innings in the middle frames, before Zach Strecker took over in the ninth to get the final two outs of the game.
“We played really good,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “I was really glad to see it for (Chandler Shepherd). His first couple of outings this year were a little rough. He is a really good competitor and has some really good pitches. Sometimes it takes a while to relax at the beginning of the season and let your skills play out and that is what we did today.”
Murray State (4-4) senior starter Tim Vonder Haar (1-1) worked 2.2 innings, allowing six hits and five runs, walking two and striking out five. Brock Downey took over in the third inning working four strong innings, allowing only one hit and two walks, with three runs scoring, striking out three. Righty John Rafferty took over in the seventh, facing one hitter and allowing a single. Kyle Cornett and Tyler Saltsman also worked in relief for the ‘Breds.
UK will return to action on Wednesday, hosting Eastern Kentucky at 4 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Network, live in Lexington on WWTF 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com. UK will send freshman southpaw Ryne Combs (0-0, 3.00 ERA) to the mound to face Eastern Kentucky freshman right-hander Chris Cervantes (0-1, 10.38 ERA).
The Wildcats get on the board in the bottom of the first on a three-run bomb by Reed. Cousino led off the inning reaching base on a wild pitch and then advanced to second when Witt got plunked on the left arm. Reed then stepped into the box and smacked the first pitch he saw into the parking lot in rightfield.
Kentucky scored again in the second after Reida led off with a double, bouncing off the right-centerfield wall. Fettes then flared his first career home hit to shallow centerfield to advance Reida to third. After Cousino struck out, Witt grounded a ball past the third baseman and shortstop to score Reida and advance Fettes to second, tying the game at 4-4.
In the third the Wildcats tacked on another run, with Kuhn leading off the inning with a single on a line drive to leftfield. After McConkey struck out looking, Boehm came to the plate. While Boehm was at the dish, Kuhn stole second, putting a man in scoring position with one out. Boehm then drew a walk and Reida followed it up with a single up the middle to load the bases with one out. Fettes worked the count full, and then hit a sacrifice fly to deep centerfield, scoring Kuhn.
With Kentucky only up one run going into the bottom of the seventh, Riddle led off with a single up the middle. Kuhn followed up with a walk, and McConkey laid down a sacrifice bunt back to the pitcher advancing the runners to second and third. After a 1-4 fielder’s choice ground out off the bat of Boehm, Reida drew a full-count walk to load the bases. Thomas then pinch hit for Fettes and singled up the middle, scoring Riddle and Kuhn. Cousino continued the rally doubling to shallow leftfield, scoring Reida from second. With Thomas and Cousino on second and third, Witt drew a walk to load the bases for the second time in the frame. Reed and Riddle then were hit by pitches in consecutive at bats, scoring Thomas and Cousino. Kuhn knocked in the sixth run of the inning and 11th of the game bu singling to leftfield.