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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Behind a dominating complete-game outing from junior Alex Meyer and a solo home run from junior Thomas McCarthy, the Kentucky baseball team posted a 2-0 win over No. 1 Vanderbilt in the series opener, on a gorgeous Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Meyer turned in a sterling performance for the fourth consecutive week, posting his second complete-game shutout of the year. The 6-foot-9 right-hander pitched UK to its first win over a No. 1 ranked team since the Wildcats posted an 8-6 win over the David Price and Casey Weathers-led No. 1 Commodores in 2007 in Lexington.
"Good performance from Alex tonight," UK head coach Gary Henderson. "Really pleased, and dropping the strikeout total down from 12 to five got him through the entire ballgame on his pitch count. I thought they hit one ball hard and in the key spots he made real pitches and got some soft contact. Obviously we played some really good defense behind him. Anytime you win on Friday night it is big. Where we are and how it has gone, it is a big win. We beat Vandy's best guy and it sets us up to have more pitching throughout the weekend."
A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer (5-5) was in control throughout the contest against the red-hot Commodores, who entered the series leading the Southeastern Conference. The Dores entered the series leading the league in batting average (.321), batting average in SEC games (.337) and on-base percentage (.414), ranking second in runs (303) and owning the No. 1 national ranking by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
"It was good, my defense played really well behind me. Without them I wouldn't have pitched like that," Meyer said. "They made some really, really good plays that I don't think a lot of teams can make, so without them I wouldn't have been able to do that. So it was really good to be out there and have them behind me. It made me feel confident out there."
All told, Meyer hurled his conference-leading fourth complete game of the year, needing just 110 pitches, allowing only five hits and one walk, with VU not getting a runner to second base until the seventh inning. Meyer fanned five in the game, tossing 72 strikes and first-pitch strikes to 17 hitters. Meyer - who tossed his first career complete-game shutout earlier in the year in a 13-strikeout game vs. Niagara - faced only four hitters above the minimum in the contest, including facing the minimum through his first six innings pitched.
Meyer allowed only five hits in the game, as freshman leadoff man Tony Kemp collected three singles and Jason Esposito and Connor Harrell each added singles.
The shutout of Vanderbilt (38-6, 17-5 SEC) is the first blanking of the year for the high-octane Dores, the first since 2010 vs. South Carolina and the first for VU since 2009 at Middle Tennessee State.
On the year, Meyer has struck out an SEC-leading 96 in 87.2 innings, owning a 2.98 ERA in 12 starts, allowing only 66 hits and a .220 opponent batting average. Of the 66 hits he has allowed, only 11 hits have come as extra-base knocks. The gem was the eighth quality start of the year for Meyer, who owns a 1.71 ERA in his eight quality starts in 2011 and a 1.67 ERA in his last four starts, with each of his last four outings coming as quality starts. In his career, Meyer owns 239 career strikeouts in 197.1 innings, ranking sixth in UK history.
"I felt good," Meyer said about his outing. "And when your defense is out there making plays like that it makes everything a lot easier. I am fortunate that for three years I have had great teammates and a great defense out there and when they are out there doing that it makes things a whole lot easier. In the first inning when I struck out the side it made me pretty confident. I was feeling really good from the get go and that is the most fun night I have had pitching and it couldn't have come against a better team."
The outing was billed as being a matchup of what some consider the two top starting pitchers in amateur baseball, with Meyer outdueling All-American righty Sonny Gray (9-3). Gray, who entered the game with a 9-2 record and a 1.91 ERA, was dominating throughout the contest as well, going the complete eight innings, allowing only four hits and two runs, striking out nine.
"Sonny did a great job of staying down after the home run to (Thomas) McCarthy," Henderson said. "He was absolutely determined. He didn't miss up again with his fastball the rest of the game. The only time he missed up with his fastball was when he meant to miss up. Obviously his curveball command was very good and he controlled the outer half of the plate with his fastball the whole night, especially after the home run from Thomas."
Kentucky (21-25, 5-17 SEC) got all the offense that Meyer needed in the second inning, as Thomas McCarthy connected on his fifth home run of the year on a 1-1 offering from Gray, sending a solo job over the leftfield fence. The Wildcats later added a run on a wild pitch in the seventh frame to give Meyer a cushion over the final six outs. UK got four hits in the game including a hit from Chad Wright, who extended his hitting streak to a team-best eight games, with the Paducah, Ky., native now owning a streak of reaching base safely in a staggering 23 consecutive games. UK also got hits from Braden Kapteyn and senior Neiko Johnson, with Kapteyn scoring his team-leading 39th run of the year.
The series resumes on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK will send freshman southpaw Corey Littrell (5-4, 5.80 ERA) to the mound to take on junior southpaw Grayson Garvin (9-1, 2.26 ERA). 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 Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
UK got on the board in the bottom of the second inning, as McCarthy connected on a 1-1 offering from Gray, sending it over the fence in leftfield for his fifth homer of the year.
In the seventh, UK scratched across another run as Kapteyn led off the inning with a line-drive single up the middle off Gray, moving to second on a sacrifice bunt from McCarthy and third on a groundout by Michael Williams. With Johnson at the plate, the first pitch of the at bat sailed under the glove of the catcher, Curt Casali, with Kapteyn touching the plate to give UK a 2-0 lead.
GAME NOTES: The last time Kentucky played the No. 1 ranked team was April 15, 2007 ... The Cats beat Vanderbilt 8-6 that day at home ... UK's four hits on Friday were the fewest by the Cats in a victory this season ... Vanderbilt did not have a runner reach second base until the seventh inning ... Alex Meyer pitched his fourth complete game and second complete game shutout of the season ... Entering the game, opponents had hit .253 against Meyer with runners in scoring position, on Friday night Vanderbilt was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position ... Thomas McCarthy hit his fifth home run of the season in the second inning ... Chad Wright extended his hitting streak to eight straight games with his 12th double of the season in the third inning ... He reached base safely in 23 straight games ... Braden Kapteyn scored his team-best 39th run of the season.