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Reed's versatility helps UK to another Friday win

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A.J. Reed hit his nation-leading 21st home run on Friday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) A.J. Reed hit his nation-leading 21st home run on Friday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
A.J. Reed leads the nation and home runs and the Southeastern Conference in wins.

Like he had done eight times previously this season, he contributed in a big way to UK's 6-3 win over Auburn on Friday night.

Reed hit a home run and earned the win on the mound for the fourth time this year, but his two-way contributions this have extended far beyond just the stat sheet.

In fact for as well as Reed has pitched in his SEC-leading nine wins, he's had to work at maintaining his poise through the first few signs of adversity. How far he's come in that endeavor was on full display on Friday.

After UK drew first blood with a run in the second inning, Reed conceded one in the fourth and two more in the sixth.

When he stepped to the plate with a runner on base in the bottom of the sixth he was feeling frustrated that having been staked to a lead -- slim as it may have been -- his team was now trailing 3-1. The negative feelings didn't last long as he slugged his nation-leading 21st home run of the year, which he destroyed to right field.

"Honestly I was surprised he threw a fastball," Reed said of his sixth-inning bomb. "I was a little frustrated because I had just given up some runs that inning. I just swung as hard as I could on one and I connected. Luckily for us it was a home run. It's just fun when you go out there and hit the ball hard."

Reed's simple approach was the perfect response to his minor struggles on the mound in the middle of the game. And taking out his frustration in the form of a home run seemed to settle him for the remainder of his eight-inning, 119-pitch outing.

His ability to settle down through rough stretches is exactly what his coach feels has helped the junior emerge as one of the nation's best players, as both an everyday player and a pitcher.

"He's learned how to pitch at a much higher level," Gary Henderson. "He lets go of the frustration much quicker than he used to. Kind of the basic maturation of all really top-level kids is they figure out what it takes to be successful and then they hunt it down and they go get it. That's what he's done. I'm really proud of A.J. and the improvements that he's made."

Reed's resilience was just what the doctor ordered for a UK team that was coming off two straight series losses in SEC competition.

As the team's ace, Friday-night performances like the one displayed vs. Auburn will be vital to set UK on the right track, and more importantly boost its confidence through the final two weeks of the regular season and beyond.

"It's a big win," Reed said. "Any time you can win on Friday night it's huge. It gives you two chances to win the series. We just have to come out tomorrow and win the series then. Not leave it until Sunday, not worry about the sweep or anything. Just come out here and win the series. Keep swinging the bat well, throw strikes and not give them extra outs and things will go our way."

With the win on the mound out of the way and his 21st home run of the season, Reed can focus on his duties as an everyday player with emphasis on production at the plate.

He moved into third place alone in terms of single-season home runs by a Wildcat (two from tying the record) with his no-doubter on Friday.

While he's taking a modest approach in not worrying about the school home run record -- or that he's now four wins from the single season wins mark at 13 -- producing at a level that would attain the records could go a long way toward securing a NCAA Tournament berth.

"If I hit that many then that's cool, but I'm just trying to come out here and give us a chance to win," Reed said. "Putting runs up on the board is what's were going to try to do. We're going to try to keep winning to make a good strong push toward postseason."

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