Editor's note: this is the final part of a 10-part Kentucky baseball preseason feature, leading up to UK's preseason media day on Monday. Ranked as high as No. 8 in the preseason, Kentucky will open up its 2013 season in Spartanburg, S.C., vs. UNC-Asheville on Feb. 15. Part one (Trevor Gott), part two (Walter Wijas), part three (Matt Reida), part four (Jerad Grundy), part five (Zac Zellers), part six (A.J. Reed), part seven (Austin Cousino), part eight (J.T. Riddle), part nine (Corey Littrell).While in high school, right-hander Chandler Shepherd struck out the second-most hitters in the history of the state of Kentucky.
The product of Lawrence County in Louisa, Shepherd went 40-12 with 512 punchouts in 353 innings in his high school career, including a state record with 47 consecutive shutout innings pitched.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder stepped into a talented Kentucky pitching staff as a true freshman in 2012 and succeeded in a variety of roles: as a midweek starter, a weekend long reliever and set-up man, and as a late-inning stopper.
"Everyone is like that on our team; every pitcher that we have, even every player that we have is considered the studs from where they come from," Shepherd said. "They are the guys that everyone knows about in their hometowns. When you come to college, especially in our conference, everyone here is the same. Everyone is good, you have to fit in and find your role to play. You aren't the stud anymore; it is a group of players coming together to form a team."
A former 41st-round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox, Shepherd was a versatile performer as a freshman, going 3-1 in 18 appearances and nine starts, with one save in 56.1 innings, sporting a 3.83 ERA.
It was a pair of Southeastern Conference relief outings that propelled Shepherd into the conversation of the better freshmen in college baseball, starting with a win at No. 9 Arkansas with 3.2 shutout, one-hit innings. He then tossed 3.1 shutout, two-hit innings against No. 1 LSU as the Wildcats claimed the series win over the Tigers.
"I remember the adrenaline, the feeling of those games. There is nothing else like it," Shepherd said about the games with Arkansas and LSU. "I have never thrown in games like that with that type of competition or in those types of competitive environments."
Shepherd also shined in a pair of heroic outings in the NCAA Tournament as the Wildcats found themselves battling through the losers bracket after suffering an epic 21-inning opening-round loss to No. 25 Kent State. UK posted an elimination game win over Valapraiso hours after falling in the longest postseason baseball game in NCAA history, with Shepherd getting the final nine outs for his first career save.
"That whole tournament was such a grind for everyone," Shepherd said. "My mindset was just to do whatever I needed to do that weekend to help our team win games. I warmed up in the bullpen in the 21-inning game quite a bit and the next game we played, I had the same mindset. I was ready to go in whenever coach (Gary Henderson) and the team needed me. I wasn't too worried about going in or sitting out, I was just thinking that I needed to do whatever I needed to help us win."
After Kentucky rolled over host No. 15 Purdue to advance to face Kent for the regional championship game, the Wildcats had 40 minutes to determine who would take the mound for its energy-sapped pitching staff. UK turned to Shepherd and he turned in an impressive performance combined with his three-inning save a day prior.
"The championship game turned out to be pretty crazy," Shepherd said. "Because it was an elimination game doubleheader, I didn't find out I was going to start that game until right before first pitch. I realized that I needed to get ready to go right then because 30 minutes before that I was just warming up in the bullpen, playing catch as if I wasn't starting the game. I had to make an adjustment and realize that I was starting a big game for us and had to get my mind ready and focused on what I needed to do to be successful and help our team win."
He carried a dominating shutout into the eighth inning against the Flashes and all told worked 10.2 innings in a two-day span as the Wildcats battled for their postseason lives.
Following the season, Shepherd ventured to the Perfect Game Collegiate League in Amsterdam, N.Y., where he was named the league pitcher of the year, the top prospect in the circuit and a first-team summer league All-American.
Shepherd posted a 9-0 record with a 1.73 ERA in 10 starts, leading his club to the league crown and starting the all-star game.
"I got the chance to go play with some great guys, both on the field and off the field," Shepherd said. "It made me a better pitcher, in terms of actually improving my pitches. I took what I learned from here at school with me this summer, which really helped me improve as a pitcher mentally."
Shepherd returned to Kentucky in the fall with the experience of a decorated summer under his belt. He gives UK a unique, proven weapon whether he functions as a starter or a key reliever.
"Our pitching staff is great," Shepherd said. "We have a guy for every situation, every role. At any point in the game we have a guy who we have confidence can handle that situation. We have guys that throw from the right side, guys that throw from the left side, whatever the game calls for we have it. All that does is help our club."