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Baseball's bats explode for school-record weekend

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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.

Overall Record: 9-2
Record Last Week: 4-0

Recent Results
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
Austin Cousino
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.

Team notes
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.

Game one


Game two


UK used Kyle Barrett's first-career home run, a 3-for-4 day from Austin Cousino and seven young arms to get a win in its home opener against Wright State, 7-1. Highlights and postgame interviews below.

Highlights


Head coach Gary Henderson




Center fielder Austin Cousino




Right fielder Kyle Barrett



Fit, confident Reed setting tone for UK baseball

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A.J. Reed had five home runs and 11 RBI in three UK wins over the weekend. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) A.J. Reed had five home runs and 11 RBI in three UK wins over the weekend. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
A.J. Reed has apparently mastered the art of the understatement.

On the heels of three games that made him the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week and one of four Louisville Slugger National Players of the Week, the junior first baseman/pitcher offered the following self-assessment.

"All I'm trying to do is just go up there and put a good swing on a strike," Reed said. "Luckily for us and for myself, I did that a couple times."

Unless he was talking about the fifth inning on Friday alone, Reed was selling himself a bit short.

In wins over St. Joseph's, Old Dominion and St. John's, Reed became the first player in the modern history of UK baseball to club five home runs in a three-game span. He added two more hits in his 13 at-bats -- including a double -- and posted 11 runs batted in and a staggering slugging percentage of 1.769.

"It's a lot of fun," Reed said. "This past weekend was a lot of fun and it's good to get some wins."

Reed got his weekend rolling on Friday. Five innings into a seven-inning, one-run pitching effort, he stepped to the plate after Max Kuhn worked a walk and promptly delivered a two-run homer. Reed the returned to the dugout, expecting to head back to the mound in relatively short order.

Instead, six of the next eight Wildcats reached base to load the bases for Reed. Naturally, the thought of doing something he can't ever remember doing came up.

"I was trying to not to think about (hitting a home run) again, but obviously that thought comes to mind," Reed said. "Just trying to hit a ball hard and put a good swing on it."
 
He succeeded on both counts and a grand slam was the result. Two home runs and six RBI would have been a decent total for UK's cleanup hitter through the Wildcats 5-2 start, but it's merely Reed's best inning among two weekends full of them.

Reed is batting .433 with six home runs and 17 RBI on the season -- not to mention his 2-0 record and 1.50 earned-run average on the mound. The Terre Haute, Ind., native was good a season ago, but is at another level so far in 2014.

"I think most of the time when you find guys that are really seeing it well, it's usually a little bit later in the year," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Typically not something you see the first three, four weekends. But he had a really good weekend, saw it well, a lot of good swings and not just on the home runs."

Some of that has to do with being in the middle of a balanced lineup.

"Last year my approach was a lot of pull, just trying to hit home runs to score," Reed said. "This year we have a lot different team. Guys are going to get on base and we got a lot of guys who can drive the ball in the gaps and hit doubles."

With Reed leading the way both statistically and in terms of taking a simple approach, UK is hitting .312 as a team and averaging 9.9 runs per game. The Cats have been even better with two outs, hitting .366 and tallying 32 of their 59 RBI.

"The thing you think about the most is the commitment the kids have to the process and the approach," Henderson said. "The right approach at the plate, staying with the one pitch at a time, that kind of a mantra to really stay with it when it's going well, when it's not going well, to stick with a plan. If they do that over time, they're going to be successful."

For Reed, that commitment began in mid-September.

After recovering from minor offseason surgery, the big lefthander went to work to become a little smaller. Recognizing the need to improve his conditioning and physique to best cope with a demanding dual role, Reed dropped 20 pounds and is now in the best shape of his life.

"I just have a lot more energy and I'm keeping that energy throughout the game and I'm not wearing down or anything," Reed said. "So it's good to be able to stay up. And obviously I'm a little quicker too so that helps out."

Physically speaking, Reed's slimmer, more athletic frame is paying dividends. The difference might be just as important psychologically.

"The bat speed's better," Henderson said. "The foot speed's quicker, faster. All that's good, and then the satisfaction of knowing that you've worked really hard to get to a certain spot where you're going to perform at a higher level. You're happy with yourself, you're more confident."

Confidence is a word that came up often when talking to the Cats in the preseason. With the way they have hit the ball through two weekends, that confidence has only grown.

"It's good to see early on that we're hitting the ball well," Reed said. "We've got a lot of confidence going and we're just going to hopefully continue to do it. We know once conference starts it's going to be a little tougher, but we just gotta stick to our approach: see the ball deep and let it travel and I think we'll be just fine."

The Cats will look to sustain that approach as they begin their home schedule with a Tuesday matchup with Wright State at 4 p.m. ET. UK plays nine of its next 10 games at Cliff Hagan Stadium, offering a chance to build the kind of momentum that sparked a record-setting 2012 campaign.

"You'd really like to get it started," Henderson said. "We won't get to that same spot that we did a couple years ago (starting the season 22-0) because we've stubbed our toe a couple times, but to be able to get home and play several games over a course of two-and-a-half weeks at your own place is something that we're looking forward to and hopefully we'll get on a good run."
 

Kentucky baseball -- Weekend update (Feb. 24)

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Overall Record: 5-2
Record Last Week: 3-0

Recent Results
Friday, Feb. 21 - won vs. St. Joseph's, 16-2 (Norfolk, Va.)
Saturday, Feb. 22 - won at Old Dominion, 7-5
Sunday, Feb. 23 - won vs. St. John's, 13-0 (Norfolk, Va.)

Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern)
Tuesday, Feb. 25 - vs. Wright State - 4 p.m. (HOME OPENER)
Wednesday, Feb. 26 - vs. Dayton - 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 28 - vs. Eastern Michigan - 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 1 - vs. Eastern Michigan - 2 p.m.
Sunday, March 2 - vs. Eastern Michigan - 1 p.m. 

Player/Pitcher of the Week nominee
A.J. Reed
6-4 - Jr. - LHP/1B - Terre Haute, Ind. (Terre Haute South)
Week Stats: .538 (7-for-13), 6 R, 2B, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 1.769 SLG%, .600 OB%; 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 SO

Notes: Junior A.J. Reed has a historic three-game weekend at the Old Dominion Tournament, belting five home runs and driving in 11 RBI ... Reed - who also won Friday's game on the mound with seven, one-run innings - became the first player in UK history to hit five home runs in a three-game span ... A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed hit two homers - including a grand slam - on Friday, becoming the first player to hit two homers in a single inning since Jason Kipnis in 2007 ... Reed finished Friday with a career-high six RBI, while working seven innings on the bump, allowing six hits and no walks, striking out four ... In a Saturday comeback win at Old Dominion, Reed erased a one-run deficit with a full-count, two-run, two-out single in the third inning, before belting a game-tying home run in the seventh inning, later smacking a double off the wall in the ninth ... Sunday in a win vs. St. John's, Reed hit a pair of solo homers to make UK history, becoming the first player with five homers in a three-game stretch ... In seven games to open 2014, Reed has hit .433 (13-for-30) with 10 runs, three doubles, six homers and 17 RBI ... On the mound, Reed has a win over No. 1 Virginia in a 2-0 record, with a 1.50 ERA and a .205 opponent average in 12 innings ... A first-team preseason All-America selection by Baseball America, Reed has hit .300 (133-for-444) in his three-year career, with 20 doubles, two triples, 23 homers and 112 RBI, while owning a 9-11 record with a 3.28 ERA on the mound in 148 innings in his career.

Team notes
Kentucky continued its season-long, seven-game road swing with a three-game sweep at the Old Dominion Tournament in Norfolk, Va., getting a historic output from junior preseason All-America two-way standout A.J. Reed. UK posted a 16-2 win over St. Joseph's on Friday, a comeback 7-5 win at ODU on Saturday and a 13-0 win over St. John's on Sunday to conclude the weekend.

Kentucky (5-2) - ranked No. 25 by Perfect Game and No. 30 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers last week, will return to action with its home opener on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET vs. Wright State at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK will then host Dayton at 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, before welcoming Eastern Michigan for UK's first home weekend series.

Reed belted five home runs and has 11 RBI on the weekend, becoming the first player in school history with five homers in a three-game span. He hit two homers in an inning on Friday - while also working seven, one-run innings on the mound for the win - becoming the first UK player since Jason Kipnis in 2007 to hit two homers in an inning. Reed then gave UK the lead with a two-out, two-RBI single in the third inning at ODU Saturday, before later tying the game in the seventh inning with a solo homer and then pelting a double off the wall in the ninth inning. Sunday, Reed had his second two-homer game of the weekend with a pair of solo jacks in a win over St. John's.

A member of the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Watch List, Reed has hit .433 (13-for-30) in seven 2014 games, with 10 runs, three doubles, six homers and 17 RBI, also owning a 2-0 record and a 1.50 ERA on the mound as UK's Friday starter for the second consecutive season.

Fellow preseason All-American Austin Cousino has hit .400 (12-for-30) with three doubles, one homer, four RBI and three steals to open the year. Outfielder Ka'ai Tom has batted .389 (7-for-18), catcher Micheal Thomas has hit .350 (7-for-20), with a .500 on-base percentage, with outfielder Kyle Barrett sporting a .323 (10-for-31) average. Senior shortstop Matt Reida - who hit .600 over the weekend - has hit .296 (8-for-27) with seven RBI.

On the mound, junior Chandler Shepherd (1-0, 5.73 ERA) and sophomore Kyle Cody (1-0, 1.93 ERA) have joined Reed in the rotation. Sophomore southpaw Ryne Combs (1-0, 2.45 ERA) has worked in two games and 7.1 innings in relief, allowing just a pair of singles. Junior Spencer Jack has appeared in a team-high three games, working five shutout innings, scattering three singles and striking out five.

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