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Freshman Cody grows up as UK takes down Louisville

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True freshman Kyle Cody allowed just two earned runs in 6.1 innings in UK's 5-4 win at Louisville on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) True freshman Kyle Cody allowed just two earned runs in 6.1 innings in UK's 5-4 win at Louisville on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE, Ky., -- For the first time since at least 2002, archrivals Kentucky and Louisville were set to meet as top-10 teams. Based on the environment at Jim Patterson Stadium, the matchup would be a big one.

But as fans of UK baseball know, the priority is Southeastern Conference play. The priority is the weekend. For that reason, Wildcat aces A.J. Reed, Jerad Grundy and Cory Littrell rested their arms and Gary Henderson turned to Kyle Cody.

It was a stage the likes of which Cody - a native of Chippewa Falls, Wis. - has never seen, let alone played on.

"This is the most people I've ever pitched in front of before," Cody said. "Coming from a small town, I've never been to a stadium this big before."

Based on the way he performed, Cody will be looking forward to another such chance.

He didn't factor in the decision, but the result would have been much different if not for Cody's quality start. Had he not stepped up with the UK pitching staff depleted by injury and illness, the No. 7 Cats (22-6) don't get anywhere close to posting a 5-4 extra-inning win over No. 9 Louisville (22-6) after Kyle Barrett's sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th to score J.T. Riddle against hard-throwing U of L closer Nick Burdi.

"I'm really proud of our kids," Henderson said. "I thought we brought it all night. I thought it was a really well-competed game on both sides. A lot of good pitching. Tough to get a hit tonight."

Cody figured prominently into that.

He had flashed his potential in his first seven outings - with his fastball sitting in the mid-90s and an impressive curve - but he had also had his share of freshman moments. Maybe all he needed was a taste of the battle of the Bluegrass.

Whatever the case, Cody grew up on Tuesday night, though there was a moment when it appeared the opposite might happen. Louisville scored an unearned run in the first when Zac Zellers misplayed a ball in left field and it all nearly fell apart two innings later.

Cody hit back-to-back batters to begin the third, then had back-to-back balks to score a run and move a runner to third with no outs. After a sacrifice fly by Ty Young, Louisville had a 3-2 lead.

"An absolute disaster there at the beginning of the third inning and we just flat out handed them two runs," Henderson said. "I was really interested in keeping him in the game at the point. I wanted to get him through that."

In response, Cody turned in his best extended stretch of his young career. He allowed just three base runners over his final 3.1 innings to finish with a line of 6.1 innings pitched - the longest outing of his career - and three runs (two earned), four hits and one walk allowed.

"I had to calm myself down before the game," Cody said. "The main thing when I was on the mound: I had to breathe. That was the biggest thing. When you start getting base runners on, you just gotta breathe and relax and throw the ball where you want it."

Cody didn't find out until the night before the game he would be making the start. Henderson didn't spend much time talking to his freshman starter about what to expect and Cody took his coach's cue. He didn't treat Tuesday night like anything more than a regular start.

"I just took it one stage at a time," Cody said. "I tried to get good rest. Coming up to the game, I tried not to think about it too much and then I just tried to do my normal routine before every start."

Cody's ultimate aim is to pitch his way into a role in the postseason and Henderson has been trying to develop trust in his young arms. But after a step forward on Tuesday, Cody and Henderson have a start on April 16 at Cliff Hagan Stadium against these same Cardinals on their minds.

"This is my first time playing these guys, but it was a lot of fun," Cody said. "I've never had such a strong rivalry between two teams. I like the competition. It was a lot of fun. It was good to get a win."

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