March 8, 2014
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Chandler Shepherd extended his streak without an earned run to 16.2 consecutive innings, and Micheal Thomas and A.J. Reed each belted home runs, leading No. 22 Kentucky to a 24-1 win over Ball State to even the series, on a pleasant Saturday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (12-3) posted its fourth-largest margin of victory with the 23-run win over Ball State to even the series in the middle game of the three-game set. UK plated 24 runs on 19 hits, with only the last three runs of the game coming after a Ball State error. Over its four-game week, Kentucky has scored a total of 50 runs, including a twinbill sweep of Cincinnati on Wednesday.
"We did a great job at the plate," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "We scored a bunch of runs without an error. We had good concentration and didn't try to do too much. We also did a great job of swinging at strikes and looking at balls. We took advantage when we were in advantage counts."
The Wildcats got a career game from Thomas, a fifth-year senior backstop. The native of Elizabethtown, Ky., belted his first homer of the year, going 3-for-4 with a career-high six RBI, after posting a career-high 4-for-5 outing vs. BSU on Friday night.
"Micheal does a good job of letting it travel," Henderson said. "His concentration is at a different place than it has been in his career. His swing is better and he is in better shape. He has been really focused and hasn't been trying to do too much. He has been competitive, especially with two strikes."
Over UK's four-game week, Thomas is hitting .500 (7-for-14) with two doubles, one homer and nine RBI.
"I have been able to see the ball better and not think too much about my swing," Thomas said. "The biggest thing in the past for me is thinking too much about my swing. When you are in a slump usually your swing is not the problem. I just have tried to clear my mind and see the ball as best as possible."
UK also got the eighth home run of the year from Reed, the NCAA leader in homers and RBI. A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed's solo blast started the second inning, with the 6-foot-4, 240-pound two-way star driving a 0-1 offering over the opposite-field fence. Reed finished 1-for-3 with two runs and is now hitting .434 (23-for-53) with four doubles, eight homers and 27 RBI, slugging .962 and reaching base at a .563 clip. On the mound, Reed - a member of the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Watch List - is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in 26 innings.
"It is really encouraging (that A.J. Reed's homer went to the opposite-field) but he has been doing that for 15 games," Henderson said. "He has done a good job of letting it travel and using the whole park. He hit a ball to right as well, but the home run was to left and that was encouraging."
A native of Louisa, Ky., Shepherd (3-0) worked seven innings, allowing just two singles and one unearned run, walking two and striking out a career-high eight. It marked Shepherd's second consecutive quality start and the third of his career.
"Everything seemed to be working," Thomas said after catching Shepherd's seven innings. "I liked how he was able to command his fastball. His secondary worked as the game went on. His cutter as well looked good in the later innings."
He extended his streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to 16.2 innings, dating back to a start at Old Dominion. After allowing an unearned run to score on a two-out UK error, Shepherd retired seven straight from the third to the sixth innings.
"Shep is relaxed and able to make adjustments a little bit quicker," Henderson said. "He lost his focus twice but was able to regain it. Chandler did a nice job today. He was able to find his cutter late. He had his curveball from the start and he utilized both sides of the plate. He had a strong day."
On the year, Shepherd has a 3-0 record in four starts, working 26 innings, allowing 19 hits and six walks, striking out 21.
"It was great to get a win," Shepherd said. "I was comfortable and my pitches and were starting to working for me as the game went on. I wanted to get ahead in the count and let my defense work.
"(After the loss on Friday) we needed to make a statement and we did that."
UK freshman right-hander Robert Zeigler took over to start the eighth, working around a pair of walks with a great defensive play from UK shortstop Connor Heady to end the inning. Freshman Zack Brown got the final three outs of the game to clinch the win.
Kentucky's blistering offense was paced by the homers from Thomas and Reed but UK also got two-hit games from Max Kuhn, Ka'ai Tom, Dorian Hairston and Marcus Carson. Tom went 2-for-2 with two steals, with Hairston going 2-for-2 with two RBI, three runs and two walks. Kuhn finished 2-for-4 with three runs, three RBI and two walks, with Carson going 2-for-3 in his first start since the opening weekend.
UK also got a 1-for-2 game from Kyle Barrett, who scored three runs, stole third base twice, drove in two runs and drew two walks. Thomas Bernal went 1-for-1 off the bench with two runs, one walk and an RBI. Zach Arnold also went 1-for-2, with Greg Fettes and Connor Heady each collecting hits and RBI. JaVon Shelby drove in one run and scored once.
Ball State (10-4) starter Scott Baker (1-2) - the 2014 preseason and 2014 Mid-American Conference Pitcher of the Year - lasted just over two innings, allowing eight hits and seven runs - six earned - striking out one. A 6-foot-5 righty, Baker finished 2013 with a 12-2 record and a 2.12 ERA. Kyle Raleigh, Matt Johnsen and David Current each worked in relief for BSU.
UK and Ball State will conclude its series on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with Dick Gabriel voicing the action.
The Wildcats got on the board in the bottom of the second, starting with Reed's NCAA-leading eighth homer of the year, smashing a 0-1 offering over the leftfield fence. Tom followed with a single, stealing second and scoring on Carson's RBI single to leftfield. After Carson stole second base, he motored to third on a dropped third strike during Shelby's at-bat, allowing Shelby to take third on a passed ball. Barrett then smashed a double down the rightfield line, scoring Carson and Shelby and giving UK a 5-0 lead. Kuhn then followed with a two-strike, two-out RBI single to centerfield, scoring Barrett for a six-run advantage.
Ball State immediately rallied in the top of the third inning, as T.J. Weir drew a leadoff walk on a full-count offering. Sam Tidaback then replaced him at first base as UK misplayed a double play ball, with Elbert Devarie following with a single to leftfield. Alex Call then replaced Devarie at first base after UK misplayed a second double play ball, with Sean Kennedy then loading the bases with a walk. Sean Godfrey then hit a grounder up the middle that went as an error at second base, allowing an unearned run to score.
UK answered in the bottom of the third inning, as Tom led off with a single to centerfield, stealing second base and scoring on Thomas' RBI single to rightfield.
The Wildcats added to their lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, as Barrett led off with a full-count walk, taking second on a sacrifice bunt. Barrett then stole third during Kuhn's at bat, with the pitch he stole on sailing to the backstop, allowing him to slide headfirst into home with the eighth UK run of the game.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, UK plated six runs on four hits to take a 17-1 lead. Barrett led off the inning with a walk, with Cousino following with a single and Kuhn driving them both in with a double down the leftfield line. Reed was then hit by a pitch, with Dorian Hairston scoring Kuhn with a double. Thomas then added to his RBI total with a double into right-centerfield, scoring two. After a fly out, Shelby forced in the sixth run of the inning with a RBI grounder.
UK scored again in the sixth, as Wilson was hit by a pitch and Cousino singled to rightfield. Kuhn drew a walk to load the bases, with Bernal and Hairston following with RBI, bases-loaded walks. Arnold and Fettes then followed with RBI fielder's choices.
In the eighth inning, UK plated three runs, as Bernal and Hairston singled with one out. Arnold then singled, with the ball skidding under the glove of the leftfielder and rolling to the wall, allowing the trio to score for the final margin, 24-1.
"It was good to put that many runs on the board with the number of hits we had," Thomas said. "It shows that we were able to forget about the last game. Tomorrow should be a good game, and I hope we come out with the same type of mentality."