For UK baseball success, it takes 6

By Nick Gray | @KyKernelGray

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The UK baseball team was 16-3 prior to Tuesday’s game vs. Western Kentucky, with a 2-3 record when the Cats scored five runs or less.

Both records gained additions to the loss column after Tuesday’s contest after the UK offense left 15 runners on base in a 6-3 loss to the Hilltoppers, a continuing trend for a team whose offense has been hit and miss in the past six games.

The Cats recorded hits, but the inability to bring runners home wasted another solid effort by the young UK bullpen.

After freshman right-handed pitcher Kyle Cody reigned in his start after giving up three runs in the first, sophomore Chandler Shepherd, freshman Ryne Combs and senior Walter Wijas combined for 4.1 innings of one run baseball, allowing four hits in that span.

But the Cats’ offense left eight men on-base in innings five through nine, including three stranded by a game-ending double play by junior shortstop Matt Reida.

Reida was a bright spot (and left four runners on base) for the Cats until his final at-bat, registering two hits. Reida stood at the plate as the winning run before grounding out.

Even sophomore first baseman A.J. Reed and sophomore centerfielder Austin Cousino combined to hit 1-for-9 after both hit strongly in the Florida series last weekend.

UK head coach Gary Henderson declined to speak to reporters after the game. His offense has struggled to consistently score runs in the past eight games.

In those eight games, the Cats have scored 30 runs (which includes an 11-run burst Saturday against the Gators), averaging 3.75 runs per game. UK posted its five lowest scoring outputs during the last eight.

Seven of the next eleven games for the Cats are against teams ranked in the top 15 (home to Mississippi State, at Louisville, at LSU).

Mississippi State and LSU were Numbers 1 and 2 in batting average in the SEC after last weekend’s games, and both teams rank in the top half in earned run average.

UK hasn’t proved it can consistently win low-scoring games, which is unusual for a team that has three very good SEC-level weekend starters, and one of the more dominant closers in college baseball.

The Cats’ staff has an ERA of 2.65 after Tuesday’s game and has given up six runs more than four times in in the 20 games played so far this season.

Six runs is the threshold for UK though the first third of the season, whether pitching or hitting is concerned.

Either the Cats score six runs or more, or hold the opposition to six runs or less.

The offense is straining the pitching staff.

With 34 games remaining in the regular season, the UK lineup can change the early stigma of low-scoring losses this season, but only when the lineup produces runs.

All the Cats need are six of them.