By Tom Hurley | @TomHurleyKernel
A six-hit seventh inning fueled the UK baseball team to an 11-5 victory on opening day at Cliff Hagan Stadium Tuesday.
Sophomore pitcher Chandler Shepherd pitched a career long 5.2 innings of two-hit ball to earn the win.
“It always feels good to get a win,” Shepherd said. “I’m just glad we got the crucial runs when we did. The defense played great. It was a good win for our club.”
Freshman pitcher Kyle Cody had to wait through a three-hour rain delay before making his collegiate debut.
When the game did get under way, both teams came out swinging.
With two outs in the top of the first inning, Murray State senior first baseman Mike Kozolowski ripped a two-out single through the outstretched arm of UK junior shortstop Matt Reida to score senior infielder Mike Wheeler from second base.
An error on Cody when fielding a dribbler in the infield allowed senior infielder Noah Zipko to reach base, scoring Kozlowski for a 2-0 lead.
The Cats weren’t behind for long. In the bottom of the first, sophomore first baseman A.J. Reed hit a three-run homer over the right field fence to give UK a 3-2 lead.
“He threw me a first pitch fastball so I jumped on it,” Reed said.
The ‘Breds came right back in the second when junior left fielder Ty Stenson stretched an RBI triple to tie the game at 3.
Murray State exited the inning ahead 4-3 when a ground ball to third bounced off the base and away from junior third baseman Paul McConkey, giving Wheeler time to reach home.
“The first two innings were really about throwing fastballs up and flat behind in the count,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “We didn’t do a good job of getting ahead, we didn’t do a good job of throwing the ball down and when you don’t, college baseball players are going to get hits.”
Witt knocked freshman catcher Greg Fettes home to tie things up in the bottom of the second, before the Cats took a 5-4 lead in the third thanks to Fettes’ sacrifice fly.
A diving catch by sophomore right fielder Jeff Boehm and the pitching of reliever Shepherd helped UK hold the one run advantage until the Cats broke out with six runs in the seventh inning.
First, pinch hitting junior catcher Micheal Thomas sent a pitch back up the middle with the bases loaded to score two.
Sophomore center fielder Austin Cousino then hit an RBI double, before Reed and junior second baseman J.T. Riddle were both hit by pitches with the bases loaded.
The bases were loaded for the third time in the inning when sophomore designated hitter Max Kuhn hit an RBI single to left field to make it 11-4 heading into the eighth.
Shepherd left the game with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, after a career-high six strikeouts.
Murray State then added a fifth run before the Cats wrapped up the 11-5 win.
The Cats are back at Cliff Hagan tomorrow for a 4 p.m. game against Eastern Kentucky University. Freshman pitcher Ryne Combs will get the start.