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Rogers, UK take care of business in Alabama series opener

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Taylor Rogers pitched a season-high seven innings en route his sixth win of the season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Taylor Rogers pitched a season-high seven innings en route his sixth win of the season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Trailing by a game in the standings with just two weeks left in Southeastern Conference, wins are a precious for Kentucky. Facing Alabama - a team that had won seven times in 24 conference games - for a three-game set in the comforts of Cliff Hagan Stadium, the UK had an opportunity to gain some ground.

Behind starter Taylor Rogers, the Wildcats showed no intention of letting it go by.

Rogers worked around a single lackluster inning to post his third quality start in four outings and the UK offense had its best output in SEC play in two weeks en route to a series-opening 4-2 victory over the visiting Crimson Tide. Without question, Rogers set the tone for the rest of the series, which will wrap up on Saturday with a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m.

"It's something that I like to do: Come out each weekend and set the tone for us and let the other team know that's what we're here to do," Rogers said.

Since a start at Arkansas in which he made it through just four innings, Rogers has put together his best four-start stretch of his junior season. With his emergence, he has lowered his ERA from 5.07 to 4.60, looking the part of a Friday night starter.

"He did phenomenal," McCarthy said. "He's been having really good starts for us and we knew he was going to go out and do his thing. He kept throwing up zeroes and our offense felt good knowing that Taylor was going to go out and do his job."

It wasn't always smooth sailing for Rogers though. He allowed the first two batters he faced to reach in the first, before coaxing a pop up and a double play ball to escape. However, he would not make it out of the third unscathed.

After Thomas McCarthy snapped an 0-for-17 slump with a two-out, two-RBI double to give UK a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second, four of the first five Alabama batters reached to open the third before Austen Smith's sacrifice fly chased home the second run of the inning to retie the score. Rogers would strike out the next batter to end the frame, his fourth through the first three innings.

 From there, Rogers didn't record a single additional punch out, but he didn't need to. After allowing six batters to reach through the first three innings, he allowed just two hits over his final four innings of work and faced the minimum three times, protecting the second two-run lead his offense gave him with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third.

"I think as it went on, the command got better. It was just more of a mindset than anything," Rogers said. "The beginning of the game, I didn't have much body control and not much of a plan. I think moving forward in the game, it got better."

"I just thought that he was confident," head coach Gary Henderson said. "Every time that he left the ball up or was soft in the release, that he made the release on the next pitch. You didn't see him lose maybe three or four in a row like you had maybe earlier in the year or earlier in his career."

Rogers would exit after seven innings having allowed two runs on seven hits and just one walk, and Alex Phillips came on in his place. He would pick up right where Rogers left off. The left-handed senior needed just 18 pitches to record the game's final six outs, the last three of which came on strikeouts. He picked up his sixth save of the season and Kentucky's 17th as a team to tie a school record set in 1993.

"(It was) kind of an outing that we've come to expect out of him," Henderson said.

Not only did Rogers and Phillips protect the lead their offense gave them, they also protected the momentum the Cats have built in since their only four-game losing streak of the season. It started last Saturday, when Corey Littrell turned in eight dazzling innings against Florida to pitch UK to a 2-1 win.

"We were scuffling a little bit at the time but it's a long season, that's part of baseball. That was a big win for us," McCarthy said of the Florida finale. "It was a statement going into these last few weekends to get that win."

Since, UK has won two more in a row to run its winning streak to three games.

Even so, the Cats don't feel their performing at full capacity. They left eight runners on base and missed out on a handful of opportunities to add to the lead. Henderson, whose Wildcats lead the SEC most offensive categories, doesn't think it will take much for his club to heat back up.

"There's still lots of season left and all it takes is one or two of those guys to get hot and next thing you know, three or four of them are and we're right back to where we want to be," Henderson said.

Final two games of series to played on Saturday

Due to the threat of inclement weather on Sunday, the final two games of UK-Alabama will be played as a doubleheader on Saturday. Former UK star and current Washington Nationals farmhand Alex Meyer will throw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of Senior Day festivities, which will take place before the 2 p.m. opener. The Wildcats' approach will not change.

"It'll be just the same," Henderson said. "We've had more this year than any other year since I've been here, so we'll just go at it the same."

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