Logan Salow picked up the win against Louisville, tossing 3.2 shutout innings. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE -- Gary Henderson stepped into a horde of media members waiting to talk about UK's season sweep of Louisville.
First, he was asked to reflect on the importance of the midweek win. Naturally, the next question about his two freshman hurlers, Logan Salow and Zack Brown.
Henderson had to look to the scoreboard before he could get into his answer.
"That's six and--what is it, five? No, six innings of freshman pitching," Henderson said. "That's significant on the road, there's question about that.
Not just six innings, but six innings of shutout ball as No. 19 UK (24-13) took down archrival and ninth-ranked Louisville (27-9), 4-2, on Tuesday.
"It's a game we want to win every year, just like they do," Henderson said. "It's a rivalry game. It's not more important than a league game. I get that every year, twice a year. ... It's always good win a tight game on the road because it gives your kids confidence going forward."
No one's confidence will benefit more than Salow and Brown's.
Salow had an idea he was going to be appearing against Louisville, given how shorthanded the Wildcats are in the bullpen at present, but it happened earlier than expected.
Starter Ryne Combs departed after allowing the first four Cardinals to reach in the bottom of the third, the last of which via run-scoring walk. The score then tied at 1-all and Louisville threatening to take command, Henderson turned to Salow with a simple directive to pound the strike zone.
He did just that.
"All Logan did was throw strikes and that was it and that's all we needed to do," Henderson said. "We needed to throw strikes and if we did that we were going to play enough defense behind it to make it work."
Salow, picking up the win in just the 14th appearance of his young career, admitted he felt some pressure to eat innings given the circumstances.
"But not too much because I know the guys behind me are going to do a great job playing defense," Salow said. "I know we are going to score runs when I get in the dugout. There is a little pressure, but not as much as you'd think."
Salow showed no signs of that pressure, needing just two batters to retire the side on a fielder's choice and a strikeout-caught stealing double play.
UK down just 2-1 when it could have been much worse, the Cats quickly retook the lead by taking advantage of a couple Cardinal miscues with Ka'ai Tom RBI grounder that was misplayed and a walk by JaVon Shelby that scored the go-ahead and game-winning run.
From there, Salow went to work. He lasted a career-long 3.2 innings, allowing five hits and no walks. He struck out three and 36 of his 63 pitches were strikes.
He departed with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, giving way to Brown with runners on first and second. After issuing a walk to Logan Taylor, Brown coaxed a Sutton Whiting foul out down the left-field line.
Combined, Brown and Salow stranded five Cardinals in scoring position for the game.
"That's baseball for you," catcher Micheal Thomas said. "It's a situation you want to be in and a situation you want to succeed in, which they both did very well tonight. For them two to come out here and pitch the way they did, it's a huge step forward for our bullpen."
Brown has been making his share of steps in the right direction of late, with his third consecutive scoreless appearance coming on Tuesday before Kyle Cody replaced him in the ninth and finished off the save.
"Zack Brown is getting better, I've mentioned that a couple of times," Henderson said.
It isn't some complex mechanical fix driving that improvement either.
"I think just a mindset," Brown said. "Just coming in and being confident and thinking that I'm going to succeed. And that's exactly what I've done."
Given the quality of the opponent, Tuesday felt like the kind of game that will be played in June. Salow and Brown, if they pitch the way they did against U of L, will be very valuable if UK reaches that point, but the Cats aren't thinking that way just yet.
"I think we are right where we want to be," Thomas said. "I don't think we want to get too far ahead of ourselves at this point in the season. ... We definitely have some areas we can tighten up and get better, but for the most part I think we are doing a good job of getting better every day."
Dylan Dwyer picked up the win after tossing 6.1 shutout innings against Missouri on Saturday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
In a perfect world for UK baseball, Chandler Shepherd would have made his regular weekend start. He would have avoided the forearm laceration that sidelined him on Saturday and Dylan Dwyer would have started on Tuesday against Morehead State.
Instead, Dwyer was pressed into action.
The circumstances under which Dwyer made his first-career Southeastern Conference start may not have been ideal, but he made the best of the situation.
"What you really hope when a kid gets an opportunity, whether it's playing defense in the ninth inning, a pinch hit or his first start in SEC play, is that he maximizes it and forces you to give him more opportunity," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "And that's what you hope and that's what he did."
With UK on a two-game losing streak and in need of a Saturday-night win to even a crucial league series with Missouri, Dwyer stepped up. He tossed 6.1 shutout innings, allowing just six hits and a walk against a Tiger lineup that touched up the Wildcats for eight runs just a day earlier.
"I was just planning on attacking," said Dwyer, who found out Wednesday he would be making his SEC starting debut. "My approach was to go in there and attack, keep the ball low and let them hit on the ground, let my defense work for me."
Behind Dwyer, UK (23-12, 7-7 SEC) topped Missouri (16-17, 5-9 SEC), 12-0. Five different Cats had two RBI, led by A.J. Reed, who got the scoring going with a two-run home run -- his NCAA-leading 14th of the season -- in the fifth. Reed now has homers in five straight SEC games, making him the first player in the modern era of UK baseball to accomplish the feat.
"Especially in our conference, guys are going to come at you and it's just a matter of hitting the pitch when you get it," Reed said. "Like I said, right now I'm doing a pretty good job of that and not missing those pitches."
Reed narrowly missed out on a second home run, with his sky-scraping seventh-inning fly ball losing steam at the warning track.
"It's pretty impressive," Henderson said. "He's seeing it good right now, taking good swings and even when he swings and misses and chases a pitch he doesn't get out of his game, it doesn't speed up on him and he's at a good spot right now."
The final score would have been even more lopsided had Reed's fly ball left Cliff Hagan Stadium, but don't be fooled into thinking Dwyer (4-1, coasted through his outing with a big lead. He traded scoreless frames with Missouri's John Miles through the first four innings, with UK not breaking the 0-0 tie until Reed's blast in the bottom of the fifth.
"You lose Friday night and you don't score until the fifth, there it is," Henderson said. "And that's what it is and, yeah, he did (pitch in some high-stress situations). Got out of a couple of jams where they could have scored first, but didn't and really proud of him. Solid effort. He's growing up."
Dwyer sustained the momentum built in his last start, when he overcame early struggles to pick up the win as the Cats topped rival Louisville on April 1.
"The U of L start, I learned what I did wrong and I knew I had to come in here this time and fix it," Dwyer said. "I thought I came out well, kept the ball down and let my defense back me up. There was a bunch of great plays."
The best of those plays came from Austin Cousino, who fired a strike from center field on a single by Dylan Kelly to throw out Logan Pearson and preserve the shutout and UK's 3-0 lead. The play, which ended the sixth inning, drew the most emotional reaction of the game from Dwyer.
"That's the biggest play of the night right there," Dwyer said. "After we put up a three-spot and then he guns them out, we put up a zero right there and all the momentum goes to us and that just kills their momentum."
Any remaining momentum in the Missouri dugout was eliminated by a nine-run bottom of the sixth when Max Kuhn delivered one of his four hits and the Cats capitalized on three Tiger errors.
The crowd enjoyed the offensive explosion, but Dwyer's night will likely prove much more significant. The left-handed sophomore is exactly the kind of arm the 12th-ranked Cats will need to advance in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, which means his budding confidence is likely to pay dividends down the road.
"Having these starts like this is definitely good for experience and getting me ready for the postseason because that time is going to be time to have four starters ready," Dwyer said.
UK is within striking distance of first place in the SEC in spite of operating at less than full strength at the mound. In addition to Shepherd's injury, key reliever Kyle Cody is battling forearm tightness and has not yet pitched this weekend.
If the Cats can get Shepherd and Cody back and healthy and Dwyer pitching like he did on Saturday, they could be playing into June.
"Those are the things that are going to allow us to keep winning and do well once we get to the postseason," Henderson said.
The bats came to play for the No. 19 Kentucky baseball team in a big way in a 2-1 series win over No. 12 Florida this weekend at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Wildcats won the series opener 17-1 before an 11-10 setback Saturday and a 9-8 series winner on Sunday.
Kentucky had six innings with four or more runs scored that helped produce the 36-run barrage. It marked the most runs scored by Kentucky against Florida in a weekend series in school history.
"The ability to score a bunch of runs in one inning, besides the obvious, helps you down the road," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "You feel like even when you are chasing two or three that you have the ability to put a crooked number up there. You have to be able to do that a few times in order to a have a true sense of confidence that you can do that. You can talk about it all you want, but just like anything in our game, you have to do it. You have to do it more than once to feel like you can do it and have a realistic chance of doing it again."
The big innings at the plate for UK certainly came in bunches. In four consecutive innings Friday, Kentucky scored four runs three times and five runs once to jump out to a 17-0 lead in the fifth inning.
Saturday, the Wildcats were down 9-0 in the eighth inning when the bats exploded to put up eight runs on the scoreboard in the eighth inning. Florida was supposed to run away with the win in the series' second contest, but UK didn't go down easily.
It was more of the same for the home team on Sunday to secure the series win. UK was down 3-2 after it produced one-run innings in the second and third, but a seven-run sixth inning put a big number on the board and give Kentucky a big lead that was too much for the Gators to handle.
"We had a lot of guys seeing it well and we had a lot of guys taking really good swings," Henderson said of the weekend at the plate for his club. "Clearly when you have the middle of the order provide as much power as they did...A.J. (Reed) is doing a really good job. Ka'ai Tom hit the ball hard all weekend. It's opens things up for the guys down at the bottom because there are baserunners all over the place. We just had a lot of guys taking a lot of good swings and see the ball really well all weekend."
The Wildcats have an SEC-leading 110 2-out RBIs, in 32 games. Last year, they had 82 in 55 games. Sunday, UK was 8-15 with runners on base with two outs. All seven runs in the sixth inning came with two men out.
Junior Max Kuhn was responsible for three of those runs with his fourth homer of the year. His shot, which barely cleared the wall in straightaway left field, gave Kentucky a 6-3 lead. It was a lead UK would never relinquish.
"It's important," Kuhn said of the team's offensive ability. "With our hitting, we always stay in it. Just staying in the game and getting some guys on can really get our offense going. That's what we do. We get that momentum and it's tough to stop us. We had close to 50 hits and about 30 runs, which is always good in the SEC. It is something that doesn't happen very often."
The Wildcats will look to keep the offensive output going Tuesday against Morehead State at 6:30 p.m. ET before they host Missouri in a weekend series for the first time in team history. Friday's contest will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium will Saturday's game commences at 2 p.m. The Wildcats and Tigers close the series Sunday at 1 p.m.
Thomas Bernal didn't have much fun during the second half of the 2013 season.
Relegated to the bench with an injured arm, Bernal watched helplessly as UK sputtered down the stretch and fell just shy of an NCAA Tournament berth.
"It was tough," Bernal said. "You can't really help the team out and you've just gotta learn from it."
The Wildcats, without Bernal's right-handed bat available, simply couldn't score regularly enough in the rigorous Southeastern Conference. Head coach Gary Henderson never made any excuses, but the numbers don't lie.
UK (20-9, 4-5 Southeastern Conference) batted just .223 as a team and finished the season 10-19 after starting 21-6.
"We were kind of rudely awakened to what his presence meant last year, there's no doubt about that," Henderson said.
Bernal now healthy and filling his regular role as a first baseman, designated hitter and pinch hitter, there's no arguing his importance. That's especially true after what he did in UK's 8-3 win over No. 8 Louisville on Tuesday night.
A designated hitter on this day with A.J. Reed at first, Bernal had three hits in four at-bats out of the No. 7 spot in the UK lineup as the Cardinals started freshman lefthander Josh Rogers. All told, he had four RBI, scored two runs and hit the first home run of his college career.
"Good to get that off my back," Bernal said with a laugh. "It feels great. Any home run feels great but to hit it against Louisville feels really good."
His first homer nearly came in the second inning.
After U of L struck first for two runs in the second inning, Micheal Thomas and Kyle Barrett reached base to set up a sacrifice opportunity for Storm Wilson. He got the bunt down, moving two runners into scoring position.
Free to swing away, Bernal pulled a changeup just foul over the fence down the left-field line. Later in the at-bat, he settled for a single to score Barrett and halve Louisville's lead.
Two innings later, he finally got the monkey off his back, knocking in the go-ahead runs in the process. Thomas and Barrett reached to lead off the fourth and Wilson laid down another successful sacrifice. On the first pitch of his at-bat, Bernal hit a three-run homer that looked like it would leave the park off the bat.
Bernal, unconvinced, busted it out of the batter's box.
"I've never hit a home run before, so I don't know how to trot," Bernal said.
Though the home run was his first, Bernal has been a steady presence for UK all season. He's batting .288, but is just as important for the leadership he developed in part during his half-season out with injury.
"He's just an older kid that's really mature that people respect," Henderson said. "He's a good player, gives us some flexibility when A.J.'s pitching. He's kind of a team favorite. He's a kid that everybody respects and admires."
A lot of that respect and admiration comes from the way Bernal handles his split role. Whether he's starting or coming off the bench, he's the same person and player.
"It takes a good attitude," Henderson said. "It takes all the things that your mom and dad try to teach you as a kid: have a good attitude, try really hard, and be nice to other people. They are basics and he does them well. He is a kid that appreciates what he is a part of and the kids respect him. He is a hard worker and a good player, which is a pretty good combination for us."
Recent Results Wednesday, March 5 - won vs. Cincinnati, 7-0 Wednesday, March 5 - won vs. Cincinnati, 11-4 Friday, March 7 - lost vs. Ball State, 8-10 (10 innings) Saturday, March 8 - won vs. Ball State, 24-1 Sunday, March 9 - won vs. Ball State, 26-3
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, March 11 - at No. 17 Indiana - 4:05 p.m. Wednesday, March 12 - vs. Northern Kentucky - 4 p.m. Friday, March 14 - at Alabama - 7:35 p.m. Saturday, March 15 - at Alabama - 7:05 p.m. Sunday, March 16 - at Alabama - 2:05 p.m.
Player of the week nominee Micheal Thomas 5-11 - R-Sr. - C - Elizabethtown, Ky. (Elizabethtown) Week Stats: .471 (8-for-17), 2 2B, 2 HR, 13 RBI, .941 SLG%, .500 OB%
Notes: Fifth-year senior catcher Micheal Thomas had a prolific weekend at the plate in leading No. 22 Kentucky to a series win over Ball State, hitting .615 (8-for-13) during the three-game set ... Thomas belted two doubles and two homers, driving in 13 runs in three games ... A native of Elizabethtown, Ky., Thomas had a career-high 4-for-6 game on Friday, with three RBI and a double ... On Saturday, Thomas smashed his first homer of the year, a three-run shot, as part of a career-high six RBI game, going 3-for-4 ... In Sunday's win, Thomas belted a three-run homer, finishing with four RBI ... On the year, Thomas has hit .391 (18-for-46), with five doubles, two homers and 20 RBI in 14 games and 13 starts, owning a .500 on-base percentage and a .630 slugging mark ... He leads UK with an average of 4.55 pitches seen per plate appearance in 2014, while owning a team-high 11 two-out RBI and a .529 average (9-for-17) with two outs.
Notes: Sophomore southpaw Dylan Dwyer threw a complete-game shutout on Wednesday against Cincinnati, becoming the first player in modern UK history to throw a complete-game shutout in a midweek game ... A native of Murray, Ky., Dwyer scattered three singles in his third career start, walking two and striking out a career-high eight ... He retired 10 consecutive hitters from the second to sixth innings while throwing 65 strikes in 113 pitches ... It marked the first complete game from a UK pitcher in a midweek game since Greg Dombrowski in 2005 ... On the year, Dwyer has made three midweek starts, owning a 1-0 record and a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings, allowing just 10 hits and striking out 16. Freshman of the week nominee JaVon Shelby 6-3 - Fr. - 2B - Lexington, Ky. (Tates Creek) Week Stats: .273 (6-for-22), 2 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, .591 SLG%, .360 OB%
Notes: Freshman second baseman JaVon Shelby started all five games during No. 22 Kentucky's week, belting his first extra bases with two doubles, one triple and one homer, driving in five RBI ... Shelby had a .591 slugging and a .360 on-base percentage during the week, batting .273 (6-for-2) with seven runs ... On Wednesday, Shelby went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer, marking his first career extra bases ... Owned a hit in the series opener vs. Ball State and an RBI and run in the second game ... In the finale, Shelby went 2-for-4 with three runs, two RBI, a double, triple and a walk, also getting plunked by a pitch ... Shelby, the brother of former UK All-SEC infielder John Shelby (2004-06) and the son of former MLB star John T. Shelby, has hit .229 in his first career 11 games, making seven starts in 16 games.
Team notes The 22nd-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a five-game week with three wins, including a midweek sweep over Cincinnati and a historic three-game weekend series win over Ball State, that saw the Wildcats score the most runs in a series in program history.
Kentucky (13-3) will face another five-game week, traveling to No. 17 Indiana on Tuesday at 4:05 p.m. ET, before hosting Northern Kentucky at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. UK will then open Southeastern Conference play by traveling to Alabama for a three-game series, starting on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET at The Joe.
The Wildcats posted a 7-0 win over Cincinnati in the opener of a Wednesday doubleheader, getting the first complete-game shutout in a midweek game in modern program history from sophomore lefty Dylan Dwyer (1-0, 3.00 ERA). UK then swept the twinbill with the Bearcats with a 13-2 win in the nightcap.
UK took a three-run lead into the ninth inning in the series opener on Friday vs. Ball State, before the Cardinals plated three runs to equal the game, with UK allowing a two-out error to plate the tying runs, with another error in the 10th inning allowing the game-winning runs to score. In the second game of the series, UK pounded the Cardinals 24-1, behind the NCAA-leading eighth homer of the year from A.J. Reed. UK then posted a 26-3 win over BSU in the rubber match, with catcher Micheal Thomas homering for the second straight game and Max Kuhn belting his first homer of 2014. UK's 58 runs over the three-game weekend shattered the previous record of 47 runs scored in a three-game series with Tennessee Martin in 2007.
The Wildcats plated 76 runs during their five-game week, with a .385 average, 24 extra-base hits, nine steals, 17 hit batters and a .504 on-base percentage. In 16 games in 2014, UK has hit a SEC-leading .345 with 45 doubles, four triples, 14 homers and 182 runs scored, stealing 36 bases. On the mound, UK has a 2.51 team ERA in 143.1 innings, walking 50 and striking out 105, with UK fielding .965 and turning 15 double plays.
Individually, centerfielder Austin Cousino leads the SEC with a .443 average, with eight doubles, two triples, one homer and 10 RBI, stealing seven bases. Reed leads the NCAA in homers (eight) and RBI (28), with four doubles and a .579 on-base percentage. Thomas has hit .391 with five doubles, two homers and 20 RBI, with leftfielder Ka'ai Tom hitting .362 with four doubles, 10 RBI and six steals. Kuhn has a .353 average with seven doubles, one homer and 17 RBI. Rightfielder Kyle Barrett has hit .343 with four doubles, one homer, 14 RBI and eight steals.
UK has used the weekend rotation of Reed (3-0, 1.38 ERA) on Friday and Chandler Shepherd (3-0, 2.42 ERA) on Saturday. UK has started Kyle Cody (2-0, 1.35 ERA) in three games, with Andrew Nelson (1-0, 1.93 ERA) starting on Sunday vs. Ball State. In the bullpen, junior Spencer Jack (1-0, 0.00 ERA) has appeared in seven games, with freshman Logan Salow (1-0, 0.00 ERA0 appearing in five games, striking out 10 of the first 19 hitters he has faced in his career.
During most of its weekend series with Ball State, the UK baseball team's bats couldn't miss.
The Wildcats beat the visiting Ball State Cardinals 24-1 Saturday before a 26-3 outing Sunday to clinch the series. The totals in the two games included seven innings with four or more Kentucky runs scored. The offensive onslaught came after BSU earned a 10-8, 10-inning win in Friday's series-opener.
Fifty runs combined in the last two games and 58 in the three-game series both go down as records in UK's 105-year history.
"We've had a couple of good days at the plate," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "We did a good job swinging at strikes and knowing what we could hit. We were able to collect some extra-base hits and run the bases hard. We had a great couple of days offensively and really a great weekend."
In two games, the Wildcats outscored their opponents 50-4, had 14 extra-base hits, and walked 13 times. UK out-hit the Cardinals 40-11 and was hit by a whopping 11 pitches. All that against just 11 strikeouts.
Needless to say, it was a productive weekend at the plate.
"I'm really pleased where we are offensively," Henderson said. "The pitching will get better when we get into conference. We have to continue to work hard to get better on the mound and defensively."
The Kentucky hurlers had a good weekend for themselves as well. They gave up just four runs on 11 hits and held BSU batters to a .169 batting average. Fourteen strikeouts and only two extra-base-hits allowed by the UK pitching staff quickly brought the Wildcat bats back to the plate.
The offensive explosion the last two games was led by a balanced attack from the Wildcats. Five players had at least four hits and four had at least four RBIs.
Catcher Micheal Thomas led the way for the Wildcats with 10 RBIs on four hits and a 1.571 slugging percentage. Third baseman Max Kuhn added a team-high six hits with six RBIs, six runs scored and three walks, while outfielder Marcus Carson led the team with a .833 batting average with five hits and five RBIs.
It wasn't just the starters who had all the fun. All 13 UK batters who had at least two at-bats recorded at least two hits, while 14 of the 15 Wildcats to step to the plate reached base at least twice.
"It shows how deep our lineup is, and that our younger players want to play," Kuhn said. "They are hungry to get an opportunity. They have worked hard in the cage and off the field. When they are getting their opportunities they are taking advantage of it."
The strength and productivity of UK's bench will prove to be vital as the always-competitive Southeastern Conference slate begins next weekend at Alabama.
"It's great when you get a lead and are able to put some of the younger kids in," Henderson added. "Being able to get them at bats and allow them to have success is big."
Up next, the Wildcats will take their swinging show on the road to Bloomington, Ind., to face the 11th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers before hosting Northern Kentucky Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.