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CONWAY, S.C. -- In the first appearance of his college career freshman left-hander Taylor Rogers tossed 7.2 shutout innings and threw first-pitch strikes to 25-of-29 hitters faced, leading the Kentucky Wildcats to a 6-0 win over West Virginia, Saturday afternoon at Coastal Carolina's Charles Watson Stadium at Vrooman Field.
A 6-foot-3, 170-pound southpaw, Rogers got the starting nod in his first collegiate game and turned in a gem, tossing 7.2 frames with only six hits and no runs allowed, issuing just one walk and fanning two. A native of Littleton, Colo., Rogers got outs from the first 13 hitters he faced, carrying a perfect game into the fourth inning. Rogers, who threw just 85 pitches, filled up the strike zone throughout the game, tossing first-pitch strikes to 25-of-29 batters. He forced 15 ground outs in the contest, also fielding his position splendidly, with a putout and two assists, not allowing a WVU base runner to reach scoring position until the fourth inning.
"Yeah, I am really pleased," UK second-year head coach Gary Henderson said. "To be able to go out there and pitch that efficiently with that much poise (is amazing). He looked like a junior. He was really good. He crammed the ball in the strike zone the entire time and as soon as he gave up a hit he got right back in the strike zone. We are really pleased with that effort today."
The shutout is the first for the Wildcats since a 2-0 blanking of Marshall March 31, 2009. UK utilized the all freshmen pitching staff in the contest, as acclaimed right-hander Jordan Cooper hurled the final 1.1 innings with two hits allowed, one walk and one strikeout. Last season, UK had two shutouts, also blanking Indiana State early in the year.
Offensively, UK was led by fifth-year senior centerfielder Keenan Wiley, a native of Richmond, Ky., who went 3-for-3 with two RBI, a walk and two doubles. Neiko Johnson, making his second consecutive start as the designated hitter, totaled a career-high equaling three hits in a 3-for-4 outing, also drawing a walk and adding an RBI, in addition to swiping a career-best two bases in two attempts. Wiley, who is hitting .625 (5-for-8) this season, drew a walk and got hit by a pitch, reaching base safely in all five plate appearances.
Seniors Gunner Glad and Marcus Nidiffer each tallied two hits, with sophomore leftfielder Chad Wright going 2-for-4. Nidiffer, a native of Bristol, Tenn., added two walks in the game and has now reached base safely in 10-of-11 plate appearances on the young season. Nidiffer has hit .750 (3-for-4) with four runs scored, two RBI and three walks to open the season.
"Overall, we had really good effort out of the bottom of the order," Henderson said. "Keenan (Wiley) was really good and Neiko Johnson was extremely good. Even Gunner (Glad) in the six-hole looked a little impatient early on but I think he ended up with two hits today and one off the wall. I was really pleased with the bottom half."
Kentucky (2-0) returns to action Sunday, wrapping up the three-game set at the Caravelle Resort Invitational. UK will face No. 12 Coastal Carolina Sunday at 3 p.m. ET at Vrooman Field. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with Dick Gabriel calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WGVN 1580-AM and on UKathletics.com. UK will also offer a comprehensive live blog throughout the contest, available on UKathletics.com.
The Wildcats jumped on the board first, as Wiley led off the second inning with a double down the right-field line, moving to second on Johnson's single and scoring on preseason All-American second baseman Chris Bisson's RBI fielder's choice.
In the third inning, UK added another run as Andy Burns got hit by a pitch, later scoring on Wiley's single to centerfield.
UK added to its lead in the top of the fourth, as Johnson led off the frame with a perfectly-placed drag bunt down the first-base line and immediately stole second to move into scoring position. Wright, a native of Paducah, Ky., followed and belted a triple off the centerfield wall, his second career triple. Sophomore first baseman Braden Kapteyn scored Wright with an RBI groundout.
The Wildcats added a run in the fifth inning, as Gunner Glad doubled with one out and scored on Wiley's double down the left-field line. Wiley finished with doubles down each the right-field line and left-field line.
Kentucky added an insurance run in the top of the ninth, as Nidiffer singled up the middle to lead off and moved into scoring position after a high-hopping groundout from Burns. After Glad and Wiley got plunked by pitches and shortstop Taylor Black struck out with the bases juiced, Johnson forced home a run with an RBI walk.
West Virginia (0-2), which lost a close contest to the 12th-ranked Chanticleers Friday night, got 3.1 innings from left-hander Jonathan Jones, who allowed seven hits and four runs, walking four and striking out two. Andy Berry came on in relief and tossed 4.2 frames, with five hits and one run allowed.
UK now owns an 11-2 lead in the all-time series, owning a 2-1 mark in neutral site meetings.
On how pleased he was with Taylor Rogers' outing ...
"Yeah, I am really pleased. To be able to go out there and pitch that efficiently with that much poise (is amazing). He looked like a junior. He was really good. He crammed the ball in the strike zone the entire time and as soon as he gave up a hit he got right back in the strike zone. We are really pleased with that effort today."
On leaving 13 runners on base but getting key hits when Kentucky needed them the most ...
"We were right on the verge of having about 10 to 12 runs in that ballgame, especially early. If we get those runs then you can be a little bit more aggressive on the base paths. If you have a couple of outs and the game is still tied, I want to give us a chance to hit. Yes, we had a lot of base runners left on base and hopefully we will come through tomorrow in the same situation. But it is early in the year and those things happen."
On getting good production from the bottom of the order ...
"It is important and over two games now we have really only had three or four at bats that you wouldn't classify as quality at bats. We had a couple of guys get anxious today and some of West Virginia's velocity was down. We really had to wait and had a couple of guys that really jumped at the ball and got a little anxious. Overall, we had really good effort out of the bottom of the order. Keenan (Wiley) was really good and Neiko Johnson was extremely good. Even Gunner (Glad) in the six-hole looked a little impatient early on but I think he ended up with two hits today and one off the wall. I was really pleased with the bottom half."
Kentucky Freshman Pitcher Taylor Rogers Post-Game Quotes
On his pitching performance today ...
"I was expecting to try to get some experience and see how it goes and I ended up feeling really well in the bullpen and really just got it going today on the mound."
On when he thought that he really had it going ...
"In the bullpen, I felt good and knew that I had it. I was still nervous but after that first hitter I was back to the feeling that I had it and knew how to do it."
On getting some run support ...
"It was tremendous. I was telling the guys before the game started that I knew they were going to score runs. I was putting the pressure on them, kind of. It was definitely a big help when we got some runs on the board."
On what he talked about with Coach Henderson before the game ...
"He just told me to stand tall and keep my rhythm. That is all that it was. It was really simple. He just wanted me to stay tall and keep in rhythm and it is easy."
On how much of a help it was that he was getting a ton of first-pitch outs ...
"They were swinging early in the count and that really helped me out a lot. (Taylor) Black made some really good plays and so did (Chris) Bisson. Everybody made some plays."
On when the butterflies left him ...
"First pitch, I felt them the first pitch. I was looking around and thinking, `Whoa, this is pretty cool.' Then I just got back to what we do. It is more mental and all confidence."