By Nick Gray | @KyKernelGray
UK baseball used a strong pitching effort from freshman starting pitcher Kyle Cody and a consistent offensive effort to defeat Xavier 6-3 Wednesday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Cody (1-0) pitched a career-long five innings to earn his first collegiate victory, allowing two runs on four hits, striking out three and not allowing a walk for the Cats (11-1), who extended their season-long winning streak to eight games.
“I was really pleased,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said of Cody’s performance. “He got two outs in the fourth and got a little excited and got in a hurry. He ended up with a couple balls up and they made him pay. The middle of the order hit the ball twice. Other than that, he did a really good job all night. I’m really pleased.”
Offensively, No. 7 UK was paced by sophomore infielder Max Kuhn, who was 2-for-4 with two runs batted in and two runs scored. Sophomore designated hitter A.J. Reed was 2-for-3 with a home run (his fifth of the season) and two intentional walks.
The pivotal moment in the game came with two outs in the fifth inning with Kuhn batting and the bases loaded. The Cats got a lead-off single by senior catcher Micheal Thomas, which was followed by Reed’s second intentional walk of the game. Junior infielder J.T. Riddle, with help from a bobble from the Xavier first baseman, also reached via an infield hit.
Kuhn then lined a double into left field that scored Thomas and Reed which gave UK the lead for good at 3-2.
Xavier (3-7) managed a lead-off single to centerfield by senior outfielder Mark Elwell, the Musketeers leading hitter, but retired the side via a long fly ball and a groundball to Cody, who started the double play to second base to end the Xavier half of the first inning.
Senior outfielder Zac Zellers posted the first hit for the Cats, which was followed by a single off the bat of Reed. Zellers moved to third base on Reed’s single, and Riddle drove him in on a sacrifice fly to right centerfield to give UK the 1-0 lead.
The Cats were retired in the second inning by a strikeout by junior shortstop Matt Reida on a hit-and-run that led to junior infielder Paul McConkey caught attempting to steal second base for a double play.
UK’s half of the third inning began after a lead-off single by Thomas (who ended up 2-for-3 with a run scored) and a one-out single from sophomore centerfielder Austin Cousino. The situation forced Xavier junior right-handed pitcher Scott Klever to intentionally walk Reed and load the bases.
But Riddle grounded into a 1-2-3 double play in the next at-bat to end the third inning.
Cody sent the Musketeers down in order in the second and third innings, settling in after a rough first career start against Murray State last Wednesday, when he gave up three runs in 2.2 innings.
Cody would allow two runs in the fourth inning on consecutive RBI doubles. The first double was drilled over the head of Cousino by Xavier junior designated hitter Vinny Nittoli, which scored junior outfielder Brian Bruening from first base. Senior infielder Patrick Paligraf would knock Nittoli in on a double to left field to give the Musketeers a 2-1 lead.
The Cats were retired in the fourth inning in a similar fashion as innings two and three. Unable to take advantage of two Xavier errors, Reida grounded into a double play after a bunt attempt by junior outfielder Lucas Witt failed to move two runners into scoring positon.
Cody would settle down in the fifth, his final inning, getting the Musketeers in order before the UK offense put him in the position to collect the win.
“Today, I was a lot more focused,” Cody said. “I knew what I had to do to be successful in the end. I took what I did in the last game and all the struggles into this game and focused on changing it for the better.”
The Cats would pad their lead with a run scored each in the sixth and seventh innings. McConkey scored in the sixth inning with the bases loaded on a wild pitch and Reed homered on the first pitch, a solo home run, to push the lead to 5-2.
The Cats bullpen shut down the Xavier lineup in the final four innings. Senior right-handed pitcher Walter Wijas, sophomore right-handed pitcher Chandler Shepherd and junior right-handed pitcher Trevor Gott combined to give up a run on four hits and two walks in four innings pitched.
Xavier cut the UK lead to 5-3 in the eighth inning on a double off the right field wall by sophomore catcher Derek Hasenbeck that scored Elwell. But the Musketeers would not get any closer.
UK added a run on a sacrifice fly by Zellers that scored junior outfielder Lucas Witt to provide the final 6-3 margin.
The Cats will return to the ballpark Friday to begin a three-game series against Michigan State at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Friday’s game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.