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Baseball hoping momentum from extra-inning win carries into return to SEC play

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Somewhat improbably, Kentucky had gone 48 outings in 2012 without giving fans any free baseball. The Wildcats had played 18 one-run ballgames and even more back-and-forth affairs, but not once did they go to extra innings.

At least until a trip to Bloomington, Ind., to face the Hoosiers.

There, with sunset approaching in a stadium with no lights, UK came out on top in its first such game this season in a bizarre 6-5 victory that took 12 innings and balk to score the winning run.

"Anytime you go extra innings and get a win, you feel like you've done something," head coach Gary Henderson said. "To go 12 (innings) and get a win was great."

Freshman A.J. Reed has a 3.00 ERA and a 4-1 record over 36 innings. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Freshman A.J. Reed has a 3.00 ERA and a 4-1 record over 36 innings. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
The Cats (38-11, 15-9 Southeastern Conference) will now go about the business of trying to convert whatever momentum they gained from the win, their second in a row since losing a season-high four straight, into crucial conference victories as the season's final stretch approaches.

The first chance they'll have to do so will come against Alabama (18-30, 7-17 SEC) as UK plays host to the Crimson Tide for a three-game set beginning on Friday at 7 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Taylor Rogers (5-3, 4,81 ERA) will get the ball coming off his best three-start stretch of the season, and will be opposed by dynamic freshman Spencer Turnbull (2-4, 4.56 ERA), who recently tossed seven no-hit innings against first-place South Carolina before having his outing cut short due to inclement weather.

The two starters will certainly make their marks on the game, but Rogers has lasted more than six innings just twice in 12 starts, Turnbull once in eight starts. The fact that the bullpens could loom large bodes well for the Cats, as UK relievers have been solid all season, and even better in the win at Indiana.

Pitching 10 innings in relief of Chandler Shepherd, six relievers combined to allow just one earned run on 12 hits. They struck out 13 Hoosiers and walked just one, and that was intentional, "which doesn't count," according to Henderson.

The only of UK's bullpen arms to toss more than 2.1 innings was freshman A.J. Reed, who turned in one of the best performances of his short career. He allowed one unearned run on four hits over 5.1 innings, striking out six. It was also his sixth consecutive appearance without a walk, a stretch than spans 13.1 innings.

"He was throwing the ball with some aggression and he was throwing it at the knees for the most part," Henderson said. "He did a great job. I think it was 40 strikes out of 54 fastballs, very good. He was ahead in the count, he was on the attack."

Though he has scuffled of late at the plate, Reed has been a key cog in the UK lineup from his first collegiate game. Getting his bat back on track would certainly be a boost, but the Wildcats have enough offensive threats to compensate if he doesn't. However, Reed's abilities as a pitcher could make him indispensable down the stretch. Outings like the one he turned in against IU are exactly what Henderson is looking for as he tries to identify how he will navigate his pitching staff through the rigors of the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.

"He's got it in him, there's no question about that," Henderson said. "To be able to see that (Wednesday) was great."

As an instructor, Henderson was also elated by the timing of Reed's excellent game. On the day before the trip to Indiana, Henderson raved about how Reed had thrown "exceptionally well in the bullpen (Monday), in fact as good as he's ever thrown." Of course, he would turn around and do the same when it counted two days later, a non-coincidental occurrence Reed can be sure he'll be reminded of by his coach.

"He's probably going to hear that, there's no doubt about that, how you can back up a good practice session with a good outing, a good game," Henderson said. "He's really talented. We need to continue to have him move forward."

Before Henderson can really begin thinking about Reed's postseason prospects, the Wildcats will be looking to close out a record-setting regular season strong. Six games remain in conference play, and even though UK hit an inevitable rut in the SEC, the team remains just a game back of South Carolina and LSU in the standings. The final push begins this weekend, on Friday evening more specifically.

"I think you have to let the kids know we haven't lost the ability to accomplish any of our goals," Henderson said. "They're all there. The most important thing is getting Friday night's ballgame so you put yourself in a position to win a series."

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