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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Junior right-hander Alex Meyer put the finishing touches on his first career complete-game shutout by striking out the side in the ninth inning, fanning a career-high 13 to lead the Kentucky baseball team to a 4-0 series-clinching win over Niagara, on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer put together the most complete outing of his career on Saturday, going the complete nine innings, allowing only five hits – all coming as groundballs through or into the infield – walking just two and equaling his career high with 13 strikeouts. A 6-foot-9, 220-pounder, Meyer threw only 33 balls in his 118-pitch outing, facing only three hitters above the minimum and throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 hitters faced.
“He was great,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said about Meyer’s performance. “It was really good to see him get better throughout his outing. His concentration was as good as it has ever been. He was commanding three pitches for a strike and when he does that he is going to be tough.”
The double-digit strikeout performance was the sixth of Meyer’s three-year career and his second this season. In his season debut on Feb. 20, Meyer fanned 13 against Miami (Ohio), earning Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week accolades and setting his new career high. In his four starts this season, Meyer owns a 2-2 record and a 2.60 ERA, striking out 39 in 27.2 innings, allowing only 16 hits and a .184 opponent batting average.
Kentucky (8-7) supported Meyer with four runs through the first four innings, with the junior right-hander taking over the game from there. UK plated single runs in the first and second and got a two-run inning in the third for the difference.
In addition, the UK defense was stellar in the game, as the Wildcats turned a double play and got two pickoffs of runners at first base, with Meyer and UK catcher Michael Williams each picking a runner off. Williams also threw a runner out at second base attempting to steal. Leftfielder Chad Wright and freshman rightfielder J.T. Riddle each made diving plays of line drives in the outfield, with Wright recording an outfield assist after making a diving catch.
“Our defense has been really good this year,” Henderson said. “We have had a couple of games where we have had some tiny blips but for the most part, our defense has been outstanding and it was again today. The hardest balls they hit today we caught and the softer balls they hit kind of fell in for hits off Alex. Taylor Black made a really good play, Matt Reida made a really good play and I think Chad Wright made two really good plays in leftfield. Anytime you can get that type of defense behind you all it does is just give you more confidence to pound the strike zone.”
The Wildcats were led at the plate by Wright, who fell a triple shy of hitting for the cycle in his 3-for-4 game. Wright, a native of Paducah, Ky., went 3-for-4 with two RBI, belting his second homer and adding his sixth double of the season.
“It says a lot about how he is maturing here,” Henderson said about Wright’s game at the plate. “Even recently, he had a stretch of three or four ball games where he was having a hard time squaring it up and hitting it solid. For him to let the ball get to him, stay back, get deeper contact and drive the ball the other way is great. Obviously it was a little windy out here today and he was able to use the wind once as well.”
Thomas McCarthy also hit a homer, his first career shot, going 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored and his club-best eighth double of the year. Riddle went 1-or-2 with a RBI drawing a pair of walks, while sophomore Luke Maile also went 1-for-1 drawing two walks and getting hit by a pitch.
“I think it says maturity and I think it says patience. I was really glad to see it out of Luke,” Henderson said about Maile’s game. “He is a guy who has hit some balls really hard and has had some trouble getting it to fall here recently. He is hitting over .300, so he is doing a great job, but for him to be able to read ball in dirt and get a stolen base, is a good thing. I think he was on base four times today with one hit. Luke is really bright. He concentrates really well. For him to be able to help in other areas of the ball game when he isn’t getting hits is great for our offense.”
UK will look for its first series sweep of the 2011 season on Sunday, hosting Niagara in the series finale at 1 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The Wildcats will turn to sophomore right-hander Jordan Cooper (1-0, 3.86 ERA) for his fourth start of the year. Cooper is coming of a career-high seven innings with one run allowed and a career-best nine strikeouts at the Houston College Classic last Sunday. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WGVN 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
The Wildcats got a run in the first inning in the bottom of the first as Wright drove his second homer of the year over the leftfield fence, tucking it on a line inside the foul pole.
UK added a run on two hits in the second inning, as McCarthy doubled to left-centerfield to lead off the frame, his team-best eighth double of the year. After a pair of outs and Taylor Black got hit by a pitch, Wright laced a single up the middle to give UK an early 2-0 lead.
In the third inning, Maile drew a walk to lead off and came around to score when Riddle painted a double down the right-field line. McCarthy then scored Riddle with a homer launched into the left-centerfield gap, his first career roundtripper.
HENDERSON POSTGAME INTERVIEW