A.J. Reed allowed one run over five innings of UK's 7-1 SEC Tournament-opening win over Alabama on Tuesday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Coaches from around the league spent much of Monday's pre-Southeastern Conference Tournament teleconference heaping praise on A.J. Reed.
They called him the clear-cut favorite for national player of the year awards. They gushed over his power at the plate. They marveled at his excellence on the mound.
Anyone who listened and had not seen the junior lefthander in action surely expected a show with Reed set to pitch UK's postseason opener on Tuesday. What they got instead was a workmanlike effort.
Reed was far from dominant against Alabama after starting on Thursday at Georgia, but the result was just the same as in any of Reed's headline-grabbing performances this season: a win for Kentucky and a win for Reed.
"He's on four days' rest, he goes 92 pitches and he clearly didn't have his best stuff, but he competed really well," UK head coach Gary Henderson said.
UK's two-way star battled through five innings pitched, with the Crimson Tide reaching base eight times. Only once did Reed retire the side in order, but only once did Alabama cross the plate against him.
"I could definitely feel that I was on short rest," Reed said. "I definitely got tired more quickly that I normally would on a full week. I was just going out there planning on throwing up zeroes for five or six innings and hopefully we would have a lead at that time."
UK (33-22) had that lead and kept it en route to a 7-1 victory over Alabama (34-22).
Reed repeatedly worked around trouble to pick up his 11th win, most notably in the second through fourth innings.
In the second, Alabama loaded the bases with one out after a walk, a single and an error by UK first baseman Thomas Bernal. Reed, however, coaxed a harmless fly ball to right from Daniel Cucjen and an inning-ending groundout from Crimson Tide leadoff man Mikey White. In the process, he protected a 2-0 lead UK built in the top half of the frame on a sacrifice fly by Matt Reida and run-scoring fielder's choice off the bat of Austin Cousino.
The following inning, Alabama seemed to have a beat on Reed. Georgie Salem singled to right and Wade Wass scored him two batters later with a double into the gap in left-center. Two groundball outs with a walk sandwiched in between ended the threat.
"The key was those two innings right there because they had guys left on all over the place when it's all said and done they got one run in," Henderson said.
In the fourth, Reed allowed back-to-back one-out singles before coaxing an inning-ending double play.
"I think it was just going out there and making pitches," Reed said. "They got some runners on, but just keep the ball down and keep attacking hitters and making a pitch when you need to."
Reed's numbers at the dish -- 1-for-3 with and two walks -- weren't eye-popping considering he's the nation's home-run leader, but he did smash two balls deep into right-center in cavernous Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The first was caught and the second bounced off the wall for a double.
"A.J.'s the best player in the country and that's pretty well-established," Henderson said.
When Henderson lifted Reed before the sixth inning, he called on first-year junior-college transfer Andrew Nelson. The junior responded and picked up his first save, tossing four shutout innings and allowing two hits and no walks.
"I think I was effective today because I did a good job of getting on top of the ball, on top of the fastball and throwing it down," Nelson said. "I did a good job of letting the ball sink."
By doing so, Nelson positioned his team ideally for the rest of the week. UK advances to face top-seeded Florida in the double-elimination portion of the tournament on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET with a stable of arms as fresh as Henderson could have hoped for.
"Anytime you can split a game up, you get five out of the starter and you can finish it with one guy out of the pen, it's a tremendous lift," Henderson said. "But we'll have to wait and see just how much it helps us tomorrow."
Overall Record: 32-22, 14-16 SEC Record Last Week: 2-2, 2-1 SEC Recent Results Tuesday, May 13 - lost at Murray State, 3-4 (12 innings) Thursday, May 15 - won at Georgia, 13-0 Friday, May 16 - won at Georgia, 10-0 Saturday, May 17 - lost at Georgia 10-11
Player of the week nominee Max Kuhn 6-1 - Jr. - 3B - Zionsville, Ind. Week Stats: .526 (10-for-19), 6 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 1.000 SLG, .591 OB%, 1.000 FLD%
Notes: Junior third baseman Max Kuhn had a prolific week in leading Kentucky to a series win at Georgia to conclude the regular season, batting .526 (10-for-19), with two homers and 10 RBI ... Kuhn added six runs, three doubles, a 1.000 slugging and a .591 on-base percentage ... Kuhn came to the plate 22 times during the week and he reached base safely in 13 appearances ... In the series at Georgia, Kuhn hit .643 (9-for-14) with three doubles, a homer and seven RBI, scoring five runs ... Kuhn started off the week by belting a three-run, two-out, game-tying homer in the seventh inning at Murray State on Tuesday ... In the series opener at UGA, Kuhn went a career-high 4-for-5 with four RBI and a pair of doubles, scoring three runs ... He followed that with a 3-for-4 game with a homer, double, walk and two RBI ... In the series finale on Saturday, Kuhn was 2-for-5 with a RBI ... On the year, Kuhn has hit .327 with 16 doubles, seven homers and 50 RBI, drawing 38 walks with a .441 on-base percentage.
Notes: Junior two-way star A.J. Reed continued to engrave his name on the national player of the year awards, concluding his regular season as the SEC leader in wins, homers, RBI, slugging and OPS and falling .0002 percentage points shy of the lead in average, narrowly missing the triple crown ... He worked eight shutout, three-hit innings on Thursday at Georgia to clinch a SEC Tournament berth for the Wildcats, their third consecutive trip to Hoover ... Reed also went 4-for-5 at the plate in the pitching performance, driving in three runs ... A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed allowed just a two-out walk in the second and eighth innings, and one-out singles in the third and fourth innings, also working around a two-out single in the sixth ... Reed retired 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced, starting the game by retiring five consecutive hitters ... With 10 wins, Reed became the fifth player in school history to reach double-digit wins and the first since Greg Dombrowski went 10-2 during UK's 2006 SEC Championship season ... Reed is now tied with Dombrowski and Matthew Coleman (1987) for third in UK single-season history in wins ... On the year, Reed leads the SEC with his 10-2 mark, owning a 2.11 ERA in 14 innings, working 98 innings and striking out 66 ... In his three-year career, Reed has 17 wins and a 2.88 ERA - the fourth-best in UK history - working 234 innings and striking out 169.
The Kentucky baseball team completed its regular season with a four-game road swing, traveling to Murray State on Tuesday, before concluding the stretch at Georgia. UK suffered a 4-3 loss at Murray State in Paducah in 12 innings on Tuesday, before posting a 13-0 win at UGA in the opener and a 10-0 win on Friday to clinch the series, with Georgia avoiding UK's first sweep in Athens in 38 years with a 11-10 win on Saturday.
Kentucky (32-22, 14-16 Southeastern Conference) will return to action in the SEC Tournament, facing No. 19 Alabama, the No. 8 seed, with UK earning the No. 9 seed in its third consecutive berth in the league tourney. First pitch on Tuesday in Hoover, Ala., and the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium is slated for 5:30 p.m. ET. It marks UK's first trip to three consecutive SEC Tournaments since 1991-94, a school-record four straight berths.
The Wildcats suffered a 4-3 loss in 12 innings on Tuesday at Murray State, as the Breds jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Max Kuhn tied up the game with a two-out, three-run homer in the seventh inning. The two teams then traded shutout innings, with UK's Chandler Shepherd, Andrew Nelson and Spencer Jack shining in relief, before the Breds got a two-out walk-off single under the diving glove of UK's rightfielder Storm Wilson.
Kentucky then traveled to Athens and rode another dominating performance on the mound from A.J. Reed in a 13-0 win in the series opener, clinching an SEC Tournament berth. UK got four-hit games from Reed and Kuhn, with Reed working eight shutout, three-hit innings to improve his league-leading wins total to 10. On Friday, UK posted another shutout win (10-0), getting a combined shutout from Kyle Cody and Nelson, with Nelson earning his first career SEC win with the final 4.2 innings. Reed hit another homer in a three-hit game, also adding to his SEC walk total. The series clinching win marked the fourth consecutive series win over Georgia for the Wildcats, with UK's back-to-back shutouts markings its first in two straight league games since 1976. Georgia then jumped out to an 11-3 lead after the seventh inning in the finale, riding a strong start from power-armed freshman Robert Tyler. UK then stormed back with six runs in the eighth inning, including a leadoff homer from Reed and a grand slam from Matt Reida. The Wildcats rallied with a run in the ninth inning and got the tying run to second base with one out, but Reida's 11-pitch at-bat ended in a lineout to centerfield to salvage the series for the Bulldogs.
UK will be facing Alabama for the fourth time in 2014 on Tuesday, with UK suffering a series loss in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to open league play from March 14-16 at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. UK suffered a quirky loss in the opener of the series, with the Tide getting a strong start from Spencer Turnbull. Reed, who suffered the hard luck loss on the mound, had his game-tying homer robbed by outfielder Ben Moore - his Cape Cod League teammate - before coming up with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning of a 1-0 game. Reed lined into a triple play to end the threat, keeping the Tide in front for the series-opening win. In the middle game of the series, Chandler Shepherd pitched a gem as UK posted a 7-2 win, with Cousino and Micheal Thomas belting homers. In the rubber match, UK took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning, getting two outs and owning a runner on first base, before Austen Smith belted a game-tying homer over the leftfield fence and Nelson was going for a complete game in his first career SEC start. UK worked into the 10th inning before shortstop Mikey White hit a walk-off homer to give the Tide a 5-3 win and the series victory.
Alabama leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 59-37, including a 4-2 mark in neutral site games.
In the last meeting, UK swept the Tide in Lexington in 2012. UK got a 4-2 win in the series opener, with two runs in the second and third innings and a strong outing from Taylor Rogers and Alex Phillips for the win and save, respectively. Thomas McCarthy led UK at the plate with a two-RBI double in the second inning. The Wildcats then swept a doubleheader on Saturday vs. Alabama, with UK posting a 7-6 comeback win in the first game, rallying from down 5-1 with a five-run bottom of the seventh inning. After Bama got the run back in the eighth, UK answered the winning run, with Austin Cousino getting hit by a leadoff pitch and scoring on a bases-loaded walk from Michael Williams. Jerad Grundy worked five innings and allowed just one run, with Trevor Gott getting the fin in relief. In the series finale, UK posted an 8-1 win to sweep the Tide, getting homers from Cousino, Williams and Brian Adams. Corey Littrell worked 6.2 innings for the win in the finale, with Sam Mahar getting a save - his second of that week - with 2.1 innings, allowing just two singles. In the 2011 meeting in Tuscaloosa, Alabama swept UK with a 4-0 win in the opener, a 6-5 win in the middle game and a 8-3 win in the finale that saw UK standout righty Alex Meyer take a line drive off the shin that forced him to miss several weeks.
The Wildcats have hit .304 as a team in 2014, with a .457 slugging and a .402 on-base percentage. UK has belted 104 doubles, 10 triples, 47 homers and scored 430 runs, stealing 60 bases. On the mound, UK has a 4.04 team ERA in 54 games, owning nine saves in 481.2 innings, allowing 509 hits and 167 walks, striking out 335. Defensively, UK has a .968 fielding percentage, turning 51 double plays and allowing 60 steals.
Individually, UK has been led by A.J. Reed, who came up .0002 percentage points in batting average shy of winning the SEC triple crown in the 2014 regular season. Reed finished with a .359 mark in 54 games, with 14 doubles, one triple, 23 homers and 70 RBI, leading the nation in homers, slugging (.788) and (1.280) OPS. Leftfielder Ka'ai Tom has hit .339 with 11 doubles, two homers and 33 RBI, stealing 13 bases. Third baseman Max Kuhn has batted .327 with 16 doubles, seven homers and 50 RBI, with first baseman Thomas Bernal owning a .320 average with eight doubles, one homer and 26 RBI. Rightfielder Storm Wilson has a .316 average with six doubles, four homers and 19 RBI, with centerfielder Austin Cousino hitting .305 with 14 doubles, four triples, four homers, 33 RBI and 15 steals. Catcher Micheal Thomas owns a .303 average with eight doubles, one triple, seven homers and 43 RBI. Second baseman JaVon Shelby has a .259 average with six doubles, two triples, four homers and 21 RBI, with outfielder Kyle Barrett hitting .259 with five doubles, one homer, 18 RBI and 10 steals. Shortstop Matt Reida has a .235 average with seven doubles, four homers and 33 RBI, stealing five bases and sporting a .346 on-base percentage.
Last weekend, UK used the rotation of Reed (10-2, 2.11 ERA), Kyle Cody (3-0, 2.53 ERA) and Zack Brown (0-1, 5.85 ERA). Reed has worked 14 series openers, tossing 98 innings, allowing 27 walks and 66 strikeouts. Cody owns 16 games and four starts, tossing 32 innings with five saves, striking out 15. Brown made his first career SEC start on Saturday and has appeared in 17 games with three starts, tossing 20 innings. Junior Chandler Shepherd (5-3, 3.55 ERA) has worked in 13 games with nine starts, with Dylan Dwyer (5-3, 5.46 ERA) appearing in 14 games with 10 starts.
In relief, UK has been paced by Spencer Jack (3-1, 1.34 ERA) who has three saves in a staff-high 24 relief outings. He has worked 33.2 innings, allowing 24 hits and seven walks, striking out 28. Zach Strecker (0-1, 4.11 ERA), Logan Salow (2-3, 5.16 ERA), Taylor Martin (0-0, 6.00 ERA), Ryne Combs (1-2, 6.55 ERA) and Sam Mahar (1-0, 7.53 ERA) have each appeared in double-digit games in relief.
Ka'ai Tom's walk-off single in the 10th inning gave UK a 6-5 victory over Auburn on Sunday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Ka'ai Tom wasn't even up to bat yet, but he knew the outcome of Sunday's rubber match would come down to him.
After Max Kuhn's fly ball moved JaVon Shelby to third with two outs, Tom stepped into the on-deck circle and started getting ready.
There was no way Auburn would pitch to A.J. Reed, the NCAA's home run leader.
"Everyone in the stadium knew that A.J. was going to get walked," Tom said. "So I just kept taking deep breaths and stuck to what I do."
Locked in a 5-5 game, a base hit by Tom would send UK to a win in its home finale. Even though the Wildcats hadn't won in walk-off fashion all season, they were confident the first such win was on the way as Tom stepped in following an intentional walk to Reed.
"I think everyone knew that he was going to walk us off there," Austin Cousino said. "It took - I don't know how many home games we had - until a walk-off. ... Kai's been hitting the ball well and you just kind of knew. I think everyone in the park knew it was over once they walked A.J."
Tom proved his teammate right, smacking Ryan Tella's first pitch through the hole between first and second. When Shelby stepped on home plate, UK (30-20, 12-15 Southeastern Conference) claimed the series against the Tigers (27-25, 10-17 SEC) with a 6-5 win.
"You just gotta not let the situation dictate and make you do more than what you want to do," Tom said. "Take deep breaths, just stick to what you do, stick to our approach of what we've been doing all year and don't try to do too much."
It's that approach that allowed the Cats to rally from a 5-0 deficit. After being shutout through five innings by Auburn ace Keegan Thompson, UK plated four runs in the sixth to make it a game again. An inning later the Cats failed to score after loading the bases with no outs, but they hung in.
"To be able to be down five going into the bottom of the sixth, we come back and chip away and then leave some base runners on there in the seventh, I believe it was," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "That showed some real resilience from our kids. Really proud of them."
Henderson had particular reason to be proud of his bullpen. After Dylan Dwyer allowed four runs in two innings of his start, Kyle Cody, Sam Mahar, Andrew Nelson, Logan Salow and Spencer Jack combined to give up just one run over eight innings of work.
"I think just getting ahead of batters, just forcing them to put it in play because we got a good defense behind us," said Jack, who earned the win on the mound. "If we can just pound the strike zone, we're pretty confident that we're going to come out with the W."
In spite of that confidence and the effort of the relievers, UK still trailed when Cousino stepped in with one out in the eighth. In perhaps the lone instance of the Cats abandoning their simple approach, the junior hooked a home run that just stayed fair down the right-field line.
"(Brad) Bohannon actually talked to me right before that and said, 'Why don't you get back to slapping some stuff up the middle?' " Cousino said. "I was like, 'Nah, we're going to get one out here. I haven't hit one in a while.' I told A.J. I was going to get one today."
Cousino was one of the first to hit a ball hard off Auburn's Tella, who pitched for just the second time in his college career on Sunday. Normally the Tigers' center fielder, Tella kept the Cats off balance with a fastball and a slow curveball and allowed just two runs over 3.2 innings.
"When your only scouting report is the eight warm-up pitches that the guy takes, that's a little bit different than what we're usually working with," Henderson said.
Eventually, UK was able to adjust. It happened just in time too, because the Cats were in desperate need of a victory.
"Huge," Jack said. "And the way we won it was huge because we definitely needed a boost of morale and we needed that. For us to put up a ton of zeroes and answer back at the same time, it's exactly what we needed."
But with the final week of the regular season upcoming, it's on to the next one for the Cats.
"Well, it was a big win, that's for sure," Cousino said. "I think everybody knew coming in that we needed to win this one. Now that's it's over, we're looking forward. Obviously a huge series win, but now we gotta go down to Paducah and beat Murray and finish this thing up."
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."
It was dubbed "Big Blue Weekend," and a big weekend it was for the Big Blue Nation.
In the span of 44 hours, UK baseball hosted Ole Miss, the UK softball team hosted Tennessee in addition to the annual Blue-White spring football game.
Fourty-four hours, seven games and 46,883 total fans. On a beautiful weekend in the bluegrass, Commonwealth Stadium, John Cropp Stadium and Cliff Hagan Stadium were the places to be.
The spring game attendance was 35,117. It was the second-largest crowd in program history behind last season's, when over 50,000 watched UK's annual spring scrimmage. As No. 9 softball took on No. 8 Tennessee in a top-10 matchup, 4,664 fans filled John Cropp Stadium, the largest crowd for a three-game series in program history.
Big Blue Nation did not disappoint this weekend and came out in droves to support their team as only they could.
After the baseball and softball teams opened the weekend on Friday night, the party hit its peak on Saturday with a jam-packed day.
Head football coach Mark Stoops got things started when he threw out the first pitch at the baseball game in front of 2,474 fans. Each of the baseball team's three games drew at least 2,200 fans.
As the football team arrived at Commonwealth Stadium, players and coaches were greeted by fans, forming the Catwalk into the stadium. The energy and sheer numbers from the Big Blue Nation for Saturday's Catwalk were like those seen on Saturdays in the fall, not in the spring.
"Great turnout today," assistant coach Neal Brown said. "Our Catwalk was tremendous. It was like an in-season Catwalk today. They were lined--it was backed up and then the crowd in the game was terrific. That shows people, that shows recruits that people are serious about football here and we are very thankful. I want to make sure that I thank the fans."
The parking lots surrounding Commonwealth Stadium were a sea of blue hours before kickoff. Food on the grill, music blaring and footballs flying through the air made it seem like a typical fall Saturday. All that was missing was a chill in the air and some color in the leaves.
Once inside the stadium, 35,117 fans watched as the Blue team beat the White squad, 38-14. Not only was it the second-largest spring game crowd in UK history, but it was the 12th-best crowd in the country this spring and seventh in the SEC.
UK is one of just 16 schools to draw 30,000 fans or more this spring.
As the football game was winding down, the softball team's second game of its series with Tennessee was beginning, with another big crowd on hand.
The second-largest crowd in program history, 1,858 saw the Wildcats beat their SEC rivals, 5-2, to even the three-game series. The sold-out crowd came a day before the Big Blue Nation packed in 1,685 Sunday on Senior Day for a second consecutive sellout.
"The fan base was incredible this weekend and especially today on Senior Day for them to come pack this place was awesome," softball head coach Rachel Lawson said. "Saturday the fan support really helped push us over the edge. I love the Big Blue Nation and everything they do for our athletic department."
1,685 at John Cropp Stadium today, taking the weekend total to 4,664 fans - which is a program record for a three-game series! Thanks, #BBN!
While Big Blue Weekend officially is complete, there is still plenty of action left in the 2014 season for UK's spring sports at home.
The baseball team hosts Auburn on Senior Weekend May 9-11, while the men's tennis team is expected to host the NCAA Regionals, May 9-10.
The following weekend, the SEC Track and Field Championships come to Lexington May 15-18. Should the softball team host the NCAA Regional for the second consecutive season, that will be held at John Cropp Stadium May 15-18.
It was never going to be a pitchers' duel on Tuesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
With the nation's top offense in town and a brisk wind blowing out to left field, Kentucky would have to put up some crooked numbers to take down Tennessee Tech.
"You could tell in BP the wind was blowing out pretty good to all fields, really," Matt Reida said. "Both teams in BP, you could really tell it was going to be an offensive night. It was going to be a challenge for the pitchers."
It certainly was, as No. 17 UK (27-14) won a 15-13 slugfest.
"I am a guy that's in tune with which way the wind's blowing when we're playing," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "So, yes, I knew which way the wind was blowing and I knew we had a chance for this. I wouldn't have dreamed it would be quite like this."
Looking to sustain the momentum built last week in three road wins in four tries, UK turned to its offense to get the job done after facing a 7-1 deficit. Rather than fall into the trap of swinging for the fences, the Cats kept their disciplined approach and the runs followed.
"I thought we stayed very positive in the dugout," Henderson said. "I thought we stayed very patient in the box. A couple of times it got tight where we really needed a hit to get back into it and we got it."
UK chipped away with three in the bottom of the fourth, using three walks, two hits and a hit-by-pitch. The Cats would then pull to within one in the fifth with a two-run shot by JaVon Shelby. In the sixth, UK took its first lead with five runs an evening that featured 31 hits and 10 home runs.
"A great win by us," Henderson said. "Not a great game to watch, but a great win by our kids."
In the middle of everything was Reida.
The senior shortstop entered Tuesday night mired in an 0-for-11 slump, his batting average falling to .207 in the process. The lefty found his stroke early, doubling to left in the second inning, but it was his patience that got UK's rally started.
He walked to lead off the fourth and fifth innings, coming around to score both times. In a spot where pressing for extra bases would have understandable, Reida stayed within himself.
"They were throwing a lot of off speed to all of our guys," Reida said. "So it's tough to be patient, but we have such a good offense any type of lead for another team isn't a big concern for us, especially early."
If triggering the UK offense wasn't enough, Reida was rewarded in the sixth. With the bases loaded, Reida smoked his second double over the head over Tech centerfielder Jake Rowland to score the game-tying and go-ahead runs. An inning later, he added his first home run in 348 at-bats -- a stretch that dates back to his sophomore season -- on a solo shot.
"We always kind of give Matt a hard time about hitting home runs because he thinks he's a big power hitter," said a smiling A.J. Reed, the nation's leading home-run hitter. "So we were happy for him to get one. Finally he can back up a little bit of what he says."
The homer gave UK a 12-8 lead, but by no means was it safe. Tennessee Tech scored four in the top of the eighth to tie it on two-run blasts by Zach Stephens and Dylan Bosheers.
The Cats would answer in the bottom of the inning as Micheal Thomas hit a two-run homer. Later, Reida would add an important insurance run on a single to finish off his 4-for-4, four-RBI night before Kyle Cody closed it out with his fifth save.
"It's funny; baseball's a crazy game," Reida said. "Two days ago I feel lost and today everything coming off my bat's dropping.
"It's just a back-and-forth game. You try to stay positive and keep grinding away and the game will reward you."
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.