The opening weekend for Kentucky baseball was altered by weather, but that didn’t stop the Cats from collecting its first three victories of the season to begin the 2013 campaign. Kentucky sent out sophomore southpaw A.J. Reed last Friday against UNC Asheville and his efforts led the Cats to an easy 9-2 win. In addition to his 5-inning 6-hit outing, Reed went 4-for-5 from the plate with 3 RBI. The Cats will rely heavily on Reed this season to replace the loss of power hitters Luke Maile, Thomas McCarthy, and Michael Williams from a season ago. Reed is listed as the first-day weekend starter and on the days he is not pitching, he will likely play first base in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup.
Following an easy win, the Cats came back on Sunday against a depleted Niagara team who stood little chance against the depth and experience of 8th-ranked Kentucky. The Wildcats burst out of the gate with 13 runs by the 4th inning, and with senior Jerad Grundy on the hill the Purple Eagles caved against his 6-inning, 4-hit, and 9-strikeout day that included 0 earned runs and only 1 walk. It was a dominating pitching performance that was punctuated by the Cats offense; centerfielder Austin Cousino smashed a grand slam to right field in the 4th and second baseman J.T. Riddle went 6-for-6 at the dish. To make matters worse, Niagara totaled 6 errors on the day which added to the damage.
To close out the weekend, the Wildcats stuck around in Spartanburg, South Carolina on Monday to make up for Saturday’s snow-out:
Just got to USC Upstate, where this is the scene. Snow! twitter.com/UKMR_BI/status…
— Brent Ingram (@UKMR_BI) February 16, 2013
The Cats took an early lead against USC Upstate, leading 6-2 by the 4th inning. But a 5-run bottom half by the Spartans put the Cats in the hole. Upstate added another run in the 5th and two more in the 6th to put the Cats down 10-6 heading into the final three frames. Following a scoreless 7th which saw the top of the order come around, the Cats clawed back in the 8th inning. J.T. Riddle started it off with a solo homer, and then a two-out rally began after a Max Kuhn walk, a Lucas Witt single, and a Matt Reida walk. Several wild pitches and an unforced error later, Kentucky had added three more runs to tie the game up at 10 apiece. Kentucky closer Trevor Gott entered in the bottom of the 8th to stymie any Spartan’s rally, and he pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning. Finally, the winning run crossed the plate in the 9th on a Thomas Bernal single that scored Kyle Barrett from second base. Gott came back out in the bottom of the 9th and slammed the door on an 11-10 win for Kentucky.
After the weekend, Austin Cousino had extended his hitting streak to seven games dating back to the end of last season, and J.T. Riddle started his team-high 69th consecutive game. Ryne Combs made his college debut against Upstate; a 1-inning 3-hit, 1-run 4th to relieve Corey Littrell. Most impressively, Riddle added to his ridiculous start to the season at the dish, going 11-for-14 with three doubles, a triple, a home run, and 6 RBI. At one point he was on a 9-for-9 streak, going all the way back to opening day on Friday and ending on his last at-bat in the 9th on Monday. He was named an SEC Player of the Week for his dominating performance.
Kentucky baseball heads to Myrtle Beach on Thursday to battle Kansas State, Elon on Friday, and No. 35 Coastal Carolina on Saturday. The Cats will play their home opener a week from today at Cliff Hagan Stadium at 4 o’clock against Murray State.