LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Behind a career-high 12 strikeouts in seven shutout innings from Corey Littrell and a three-hit game from Austin Cousino, No. 8 Kentucky posted a 5-0 win over Georgia to win the three-game series, on Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (21-6, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) rode the dominating arm of Littrell, a junior southpaw, and the hot bat of Cousino to its third consecutive SEC series win to open 2013. UK plated a single run in the first, got two runs in the third and a two-run homer from catcher Micheal Thomas in the fifth for the 5-0 win.
Littrell (4-0) worked seven dominating frames, scattering just three singles and walking two, striking out a career-high 12. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound native of Louisville, Ky., has now started 11 series-deciding games in the last two years – all UK wins – posting an 8-0 record and a 1.68 ERA in those 11 starts.
A preseason All-America selection, Littrell allowed only three singles in the game – with one hit bouncing off him on the mound. He worked into the eighth inning and with 12 strikeouts became the third UK pitcher to record double-digit strikeouts in 2013. Littrell toppled his previous career high of nine strikeouts with his 10th strikeout of the game, coming as an inning-ending punchout of All-America UGA shortstop Kyle Farmer in the sixth.
On the year, Littrell has a 4-0 record and a 2.17 ERA in seven starts, tossing 45.2 innings and striking out 47. In his three SEC starts to open 2013, Littrell has a 3-0 record and a 0.82 ERA, striking out 23 and allowing only 15 hits in 22 innings. Without one rocky outing at USC Upstate in his season debut, Littrell has a 4-0 record and a 1.28 ERA in 2013.
Cousino paced the Wildcats at the dish, including starting the game with a triple off the centerfield wall. The All-America centerfielder went 3-for-4 with a triple, double and an RBI, as his attempt at hitting for the cycle ended in a warning-track fly out in the right-centerfield gap in the eighth inning.
UK also got the two-run homer from Thomas, his second of the year, and hits from freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett, Matt Reida and Zac Zellers. Barrett, who moved into the team lead with a .364 average, extended his hitting streak to a club-high eight games with a single into centerfield in the fourth inning.
Georgia (10-19, 1-8 SEC) starter Bryan Benzor (1-1) worked four innings, allowing six hits and five runs, walking one and striking out two. Ross Ripple took over in the fifth, working three shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three. Jarrett Brown worked a scoreless eighth, allowing just a walk and a hit batter.
UK will return to action on Tuesday, traveling to No. 10 Louisville for a 6 p.m. ET matchup at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Kentucky got on the board in the bottom of the first inning as Cousino tripled to deep centerfield to leadoff the game, with the ball bouncing out of DJ Smith’s glove as he collided with the wall. Zellers then hung a sacrifice fly to rightfield to score Cousino.
In the bottom of the third, UK added to its lead with two runs on two hits. Matt Reida led off the frame with a full-count walk, taking second on Thomas’ sacrifice bunt. Cousino then smashed a double off the wall in left-centerfield, scoring Reida from second base. Zellers followed with a single off the diving glove of Smith in centerfield, allowing Cousino to motor home with UK’s third run.
Kentucky plated two runs in the fifth inning as Reida smacked a single to leadoff the frame and scored when Thomas belted a two-run homer down the leftfield line. It was Thomas’ second homer of the year and the third of his career.
GAME NOTES: Junior second baseman J.T. Riddle made his team-high 93rd consecutive start … Austin Cousino ripped his third career triple and his first of the year … Cousino is the first UK player to triple to leadoff a game since centerfielder Antone DeJesus led off the 2007 season opener in Furman with a triple … Zac Zellers hung his team-high fourth sac fly of the year … Catcher Micheal Thomas nabbed his fourth runner trying to steal … UK has caught seven of 14 runners trying to steal this year … Thomas laid down his fifth sac bunt of the year in the third … Cousino doubled for the eighth time of 2013 … Zellers stole his third base of 2013 and the 10th of his two-year career … Kyle Barrett extended his hitting streak to eight games … Thomas hit his second homer of the year and the third of his career in the fifth inning … Littrell is the third UK player to record double-digit strikeouts and the first since Jerad Grundy struck out 10 last weekend vs. Mississippi State … Riddle struck out for just the second time in the month of March in the sixth … Riddle made his first error of the year, his first since May 11, 2012 vs. Georgia … Riddle’s error snapped a streak of 358.2 consecutive innings played without an error … Zack Storm made his first career SEC appearance … Storm was his by his first career pitch, then stole his first career base in the eighth … Corey Littrell worked his sixth quality start of 2013 and the 20th of his three-year career … Littrell improved to 4-0 in 2013 and is now 19-8 in his career, moving into sole possession of ninth place in UK career history … Littrell struck out a career-high 12 … Littrell has started 11 rubber-match games the last two years, with UK winning all 11 games and Littrell posting an 8-0 record and a 1.68 ERA … Cousino had a season-high three hits, marking his 38th career multi-hit game … UK improved to 20-1 the last two years when wearing its black and white uniform combination, including a 6-0 mark in 2013 … UK improved to 14-4 at Cliff Hagan Stadium, including 4-2 vs. the SEC … UK is now 6-0 on Sunday’s … UK is now 15-3 vs. right-handed starting pitchers … UK improved to 20-3 in day games … Georgia leads the all-time series 117-84-1, including a 48-43-1 mark in games played in Lexington … UK has now won three consecutive series meetings with Georgia … UK head coach Gary Henderson improved to 102-43 in his career at Cliff Hagan Stadium.