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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."
Record Last Week: 4-1
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
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.
Pitcher of the week nominee
6-1 - So. - LHP - Murray, Ky. (Calloway County)
Week Stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, CG, SHO, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 SO, .107 opp. avg.
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
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.
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.
Overall Record: 9-2
Record Last Week: 4-0
Tuesday, Feb. 25 - won vs. Wright State, 7-1
Friday, Feb. 28 - won vs. Eastern Michigan, 8-2
Saturday, March 1 - won vs. Eastern Michigan, 9-5
Saturday, March 1 - won vs. Eastern Michigan, 13-2
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern)
Tuesday, March 4 - at Cincinnati - 4 p.m.
Wednesday, March 5 - vs. Cincinnati - 4 p.m.
Friday, March 7 - vs. Ball State - 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 8 - vs. Ball State - 2 p.m.
Sunday, March 9 - vs. Ball State - 1 p.m.
Player of the Week nominee
5-10 - Jr. - CF - Dublin, Ohio (Dublin Coffman)
Week Stats: .500 (9-for-18), 7 R, 3 2B, 3B, 4 RBI, 2 HBP, 3-3 SB, .550 OB%, .778 SLG%
Notes: Junior centerfielder Austin Cousino helped spark Kentucky to a four-game sweep of its opening week at Cliff Hagan Stadium ... Cousino hit .500 (9-for-18), with three doubles, one triple, four RBI and three steals ... He came to the plate 20 times during the four-game week, reaching base safely 11 times with a .550 on-base percentage ... In UK's home opener vs. Wright State on Tuesday, Cousino went 3-for-4 with a double and two steals ... In a series-opening win over Eastern Michigan, Cousino collected one hit, before going for two hits and a steal in the second game of the set with EMU ... In the series finale, Cousino extended his hitting streak to six games with a 3-for-5 outing, with two doubles, one triple and three RBI, scoring three runs ... On the year, Cousino - a member of the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Watch List - has hit .438, with six doubles, three triples, one homer and eight RBI, stealing six bases ... In his career, Cousino has hit .302 (156-for-517) in 128 games, with 38 doubles, four triples, 16 homers and 76 RBI, stealing 35-of-37 bases.
The Kentucky baseball team ran its winning streak to seven games while opening its home schedule with a midweek win over Wright State (7-1) and a series sweep over Eastern Michigan (8-2, 9-5, 13-2), a team that beat No. 13 Clemson on opening day.
The Wildcats - ranked last week No. 30 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and No. 25 by Perfect Game - will return to action with a two-game series with Cincinnati, traveling to the Queen City on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, before hosting the Bearcats on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK will then host Mid-American Conference power Ball State for the final three-game non-conference series before Southeastern Conference play begins, starting on Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (9-2) extended its winning streak to seven games with its four-game week to open the home schedule. UK wrapped up its season-opening, season-long, seven-game road swing with a three-game sweep at the Old Dominion Tournament, before opening its home schedule with a 7-1 win over Wright State on Tuesday. The Wildcats then posted an 8-2 win over EMU to open the series on Friday, with the teams playing a doubleheader on Saturday to avoid inclement weather on Sunday. UK swept its first twinbill test of 2014, with a 9-5 win in the opener and a 13-2 result in the nightcap.
UK's numbers during the four-game week saw UK hit .353 as a team, drawing 23 walks, getting hit by six pitches, stealing 12 bases and striking out just 14 times. On the mound, UK owned a 0.75 ERA in 36 innings, holding opponents to a .188 average.
On the year, Kentucky has hit .326 with a .439 on-base percentage, slugging 28 doubles, two triples and nine homers in 11 games, stealing 27 bases. On the mound, UK has a 2.77 team ERA, with 36 walks and 68 strikeouts in 97.1 innings, with UK fielding .965 with 12 double plays turned and five steals allowed defensively.
Individually, junior A.J. Reed is off to a blistering pace to the season, batting .429 (18-for-42) with four doubles, seven homers and 20 RBI, also owning a 3-0 record and a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings on the mound. Junior centerfielder Austin Cousino - who hit .500 over the week - has a team-high .438 average (21-for-48), with six doubles, one triple, one homer and eight RBI, stealing six bases. Junior third baseman Max Kuhn has hit .347 (17-for-49) with four doubles and 10 RBI, with fifth-year senior catcher Micheal Thomas hitting .345 (10-for-29) with three doubles and seven RBI, owning a .500 on-base mark. Rightfielder Kyle Barrett has hit .340 (16-for-47) with a homer, 11 RBI and six steals, with leftfielder Ka'ai Tom hitting .324 (11-for-34) with three doubles, five RBI and four steals, drawing four walks without striking out to open his NCAA career. Senior shortstop Matt Reida has hit .250 (10-for-40) with nine RBI and a .388 on-base percentage.
On the mound, UK's weekend rotation of Reed, Chandler Shepherd (2-0, 3.32 ERA) and Kyle Cody (2-0, 1.35 ERA) has combined in nine games for a 7-0 record, a 1.97 ERA and a .210 opponent average. In the bullpen, junior Spencer Jack (0-0, 0.00 ERA) has appeared in a team-high five games with eight innings, with freshman Logan Salow (1-0, 0.00 ERA) working in four games with nine strikeouts in six innings. Sophomore Zach Strecker (0-1, 0.00 ERA), sophomore Ryne Combs (1-0, 2.16 ERA), junior Andrew Nelson (0-0, 2.70 ERA), freshman Zack Brown (0-0, 3.00 ERA), sophomore Matt Snyder (0-0, 6.75 ERA) and sophomore Taylor Martin (0-0, 9.82 ERA) have each appeared in three games in relief.