Baseball Faces No. 19 Alabama in SEC Tournament
May 18, 2014
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The ninth-seeded Kentucky baseball team will be making its third consecutive trip to the Southeastern Conference Tournament, facing off with No. 19 Alabama, the No. 8 seed, on the opening day of the tournament, on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. ET at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Tuesday’s round is a single-elimination bracket, with the winners advancing to the double-elimination field.
The game will be televised by CSS and ESPN3, with Matt Stewart and Rusty Ensor calling the action. The game will also be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky will start junior southpaw A.J. Reed on Tuesday for his second career SEC Tournament start. Alabama will counter with freshman righty Nick Eicholtz (3-1, 3.06 ERA). Reed, a native of Terre Haute, Ind., has made 14 series-opening starts in 2014, owning a SEC-best 10-2 record with a 2.11 ERA in 98 innings, allowing 83 hits and 27 walks, striking out 66. In his last start continued to solidify his role as one of the top players in college baseball history, working eight shutout innings, allowing three singles and two walks, striking out three. 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. 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. In the SEC opener in 2014, Reed suffered a hard-luck loss at Alabama, a 3-0 result, tossing seven innings, allowing four hits and three runs, walking four and striking out six. Reed had his game-winning homer at the plate robbed by rightfielder Ben Moore, before hitting into a bases-loaded triple play in a 1-0 game in the seventh inning. Reed started in the SEC Tournament opener in 2012 vs. Ole Miss, tossing six shutout innings for the win, while also hitting a homer. Eicholtz has appeared in 19 games with eight starts, tossing 50 innings and allowing only 35 hits and a .199 opponent average, walking 29 and striking out 40.
Kentucky will be making its 14th all-time SEC Tournament appearance and its third consecutive. UK’s three-straight SEC Tournament berths marks a first for UK since a school-record four straight tourneys from 1991-94. The Wildcats earned the No. 11 seed in 2013, suffering a 4-1 loss to Ole Miss in the first game of the tournament, as Mike Mayers worked a strong start and UK’s Jerad Grundy suffered the hard-luck loss. UK has an 18-29 (.383) all-time record in the SEC Tournament, with its 2-1 record in 2012, as the No. 4 seed, marking a program best, with UK falling in the semifinals to Mississippi State, 2-1.
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.
UK played a four-game road week last week, starting in 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.
Alabama (34-21, 15-14 SEC) is coming off a series setback vs. No. 16 Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa, suffering losses in the first two games before posting a 2-1 win in the finale. The Tide have lost three of their last four series, while splitting a two-game set at No. 6 LSU with the third game rained out.
The Tide have hit .279 as a team in 2014, with a .393 slugging and a .351 on-base percentage, belting 78 doubles, eight triples, 40 homers and 285 runs. Alabama has 32 steals in 45 attempts, drawing 162 walks. On the mound, Alabama has a 3.22 team ERA in 492.1 innings, allowing only 402 hits and 208 walks, striking out 380. One of the top defensive teams in college baseball, the Tide have fielded .973 as a team in 2014, turning 47 double plays and allowing 43-of-71 steals.
Individually, first baseman Austen Smith leads the Crimson Tide with a .320 average, belting 10 doubles and six homers, driving in 36 runs. Rightfielder Ben Moore has hit .310 with 11 doubles, one triple, nine homers and 35 RBI. Shortstop Mikey White has a .305 average with eight doubles, two triples, six homers and 32 RBI. Catcher Wade Wass owns a .302 average with 18 doubles, four homers and 0 RBI. Centerfielder Georgie Salem has batted .284 with nine doubles, two homers and 20 RBI. Second baseman Kyle Overstreet has hit .284 with six doubles, one triple, four homers and 30 RBI. Leftfielder Casey Hughston is tied with UK’s JaVon Shelby and Storm Wilson for the SEC lead in homers among freshmen, batting .284 with six doubles, four bombs and 23 RBI. Third baseman Chance Vincent has a .253 average with five doubles, one homer and 23 RBI. Catcher Will Haynie has a .177 average with three homers and 12 RBI.
In relief for Alabama, freshman Thomas Burrows (4-1, 1.67 ERA) has anchored a dynamic bullpen, with 10 saves in 22 games. Jay Shaw (2-3, 3.77 ERA) has appeared in 20 games, with Tucker Hawley (4-1, 1.75 ERA), Nick Eicholtz (3-1, 3.06 ERA), Geoffrey Bramblett (4-2, 4.19 ERA), Ray Castillo (1-0, 4.72 ERA), Taylor Guilbeau (0-1, 5.79 ERA) and Mitch Greer (0-0, 7.45 ERA) each appearing in double-digit games.
Alabama leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 59-37, including a 4-2 mark in neutral site games
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.
Kentucky ranks throughout the SEC stats in 2014, checking in as the league leader in slugging (.457), on-base percentage (.402), runs (430), RBI (385), homers (57), total bases (878) and HBP (97). UK also ranks second in average (.304), second in hits (583), doubles (104) and walks (233). Individually, A.J. Reed leads the SEC in slugging (.788), on-base percentage (.492), RBI (70), homers (23), total bases (156), walks (42) and wins (10). Reed also ranks second in average (.359), second in runs (58), ninth in hits (71), sixth in ERA (2.10), fourth in innings pitched (98.0) and 10th in strikeouts (66). Junior third baseman Max Kuhn leads the SEC in runs (62), while ranking 10th in slugging (.491), fourth in hits (74), third in RBI (50), seventh in doubles (16), seventh in homers (seven) and second in walks (38). Austin Cousino ranks ninth in the SEC in hits (71), third in runs (50), fourth in triples (four) and ninth in steals (15). Leftfielder Ka’ai Tom has a .339 average overall, the 10th best total, with his .373 average in SEC games alone ranking second best.
Kentucky – 32-22, 14-16 SEC
Alabama – 34-21, 15-14 SEC
Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change)
vs. No. 19 Alabama [8 seed] * May 20 * 5:30 p.m.
Radio (UK IMG Network with Neil Price
Tuesday, May 20
• WLAP 630-AM in Central Kentucky
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
Tentative Pitching Matchup
Tuesday vs. Alabama
Jr., LHP/1B A.J. Reed (10-2, 2.11 ERA) vs. Fr., RHP Nick Eicholtz (3-1, 3.06 ERA)