Bat Cats Still Alive: 8-1 Over Valpo

Contributor: Alex Risen
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Updated: 6/02/2012 11:59 pm

COUSINO SPARKS NO. 11 UK TO SCHOOL-RECORD 44TH WIN

Wildcats Advance in NCAA Gary Regional, Facing Loser of Purdue vs. Kent State Sunday

GARY, Ind. -- Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino collected three hits and three RBI, including a two-RBI double off the centerfield wall in a five-run sixth inning, to lead No. 11 Kentucky to an 8-1 win over Valparaiso in the second round of the NCAA Gary Regional, on a sunny Saturday afternoon at U.S. Steel Yard.

Kentucky (44-17) has now tied the 2006 (44-17) and 2008 (44-19) school-record of 44 wins with the elimination game win over Valparaiso. Just hours after playing the second-longest game in the history of the NCAA Tournament – a 21-inning marathon 7-6 loss to Kent State on Friday night – the Wildcats took the field to face Valpo. After the teams traded runs in the fourth inning, UK exploded for five runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a lead, including Cousino’s two-RBI double and his steal of home.

The Wildcats will now advance to Sunday to face the loser of the Purdue vs. Kent State game, set for 8 p.m. ET on Saturday night. The 4 p.m. ET game with UK on Sunday will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, available in Central Kentucky on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. If UK is playing Purdue in any games at the Gary Regional, it will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.

UK will start all-conference southpaw Corey Littrell (8-2, 2.66 ERA) in the game on Sunday. In order to advance to the Monday if-necessary game, UK would have to post a win in the opener and a win in the finale on Sunday.

The 2012 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, Cousino led UK at the top of the order for an injury and exhaustion-depleted UK team following the 21-inning affair on Friday night. The Dublin, Ohio, native went 3-for-5 with a double, three RBI and a steal of home plate. Shortstop Matt Reida also collected two hits and two RBI, while senior backstop Michael Williams – who has caught all 30 innings of UK’s two games – added an RBI knock.

Each hitter in the UK lineup had a hit, with Thomas McCarthy, A.J. Reed, Cameron Flynn, Zac Zellers, J.T. Riddle and Paul McConkey delivering clutch hits. Zellers added his first career two steal game, also drawing a walk, while Riddle bounced back from an 0-for-9 game in the opener to deliver a clutch double in the sixth. UK was without All-SEC catcher Luke Maile and sophomore outfielder Lucas Witt due to injuries suffered on Friday night in the 21-inning game, with Reed pitching nine innings in relief and making him unavailable on the mound.

UK starter Jerad Grundy (6-3) worked six innings, allowing five hits and one run, walking four and striking out six. Freshman Chandler Shepherd came on with UK needing to preserve its bullpen after staffing 17.2 innings in relief on Friday night. Shepherd picked up his first career save with three shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out two. Grundy, a native of Johnsburg, Ill., tossed his sixth quality start and his second consecutive dominating outing, also striking out a career-high nine in a win over No. 21 Mississippi State last week in the SEC Tournament.

Valparaiso (35-25) starter Kevin Wild (6-4) – the 2012 Horizon League Pitcher of the Year – worked 5.2 innings, allowing 10 hits and six runs – five earned walking two and striking out three. Jarad Miller worked 1.1 innings, not allowing a hit and recording a walk and strikeout. Sean Kennedy and Kyle Wormington each worked an inning with a run allowed.

After retiring the first two batters of the game, Wild surrendered the first hit of the game to Reed but Wild didn’t allow the two-out hit to cause any damage, striking out the final out of the inning. Grundy took the mound for the Wildcats in the bottom half of the inning and retired the side in order, including striking out two. The quick first inning would go scoreless as the game headed into the second at 0-0.

Kentucky managed to get Zellers to third in the top of the second but wasn’t able to bring him home for the first run of the game. Zellers earned a free pass on balls before stealing second with one out. With two outs, Zellers took third on a wild pitch but was stranded following a fly out into centerfield.

Grundy allowed his first hit of the game in the bottom of the second, a one-out single through the right side for John Loeffler. Reida erased Loffeld’s single with a 6-3 double play, fielding a groundball up the middle before stepping on second and gunning Martin at first.

Cousino tallied his first hit of the day in the top of the third, a one-out infield single up the middle but his hit was erased with an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play.

Grundy let a pitch slip against Spencer Mahoney, plunking the Valpo leadoff batter in the bottom of the third. With Mahoney on first, Grundy struck out the first and forced an infield pop out to record the first two outs of the inning. A base hit through the left side put runners on first and second with two outs but Grundy forced a fly out to Cousino in centerfield to leave two stranded and keep the game scoreless.

The Wildcats placed a runner on third in the top of the fourth after Williams knocked a one-out single into centerfield. Flynn’s single through the right side gave Kentucky runners on first and second with one out. Consecutive groundouts ended the Wildcats’ threat, leaving two runners stranded and keeping Kentucky scoreless.

Chris Manning led Valpo off in the bottom of the fourth with a base on balls but was picked off by Grundy trying to take second early. Grundy struck out the final two outs of the inning, his fourth and fifth of the afternoon.

Kentucky was the first to put a run on the scoreboard, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth. McConkey led off the Wildcats with a single through the left side before advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt from Reida. Cousino stepped up and drove McConkey in with a single into rightfield. Wild held the damage at one run, forcing a groundout and strikeout to end the top of the fifth.

The Crusaders matched Kentucky in the bottom half of the inning, bringing across a run of their own. With the help of shortstop Reida, Grundy retired the first two batters of the bottom of the fifth on groundouts to short but Valpo converted on a two-out rally. Fueled by three consecutive two-out singles, the Crusaders brought a run across to tie the game at 1-1 through five.

Following a quick two outs in the top of the sixth, Kentucky’s offense erupted with a two-out rally that featured two singles and two doubles. Zellers started the rally with a single into left center and Riddle’s double down the rightfield line scored Zellers from first. McConkey walked to put runners on first and second before Reida drilled a ball into rightfield to bring Riddle home from second. With two on, Cousino crushed a ball off the wall in dead centerfield, scoring McConkey and Reida, with Cousino advancing to third on the throw home. Kentucky converted on a double steal, McCarthy taking second and Cousino crossing the plate on the throw to second. McCarthy was gunned down trying to take third on the throw back to the plate but the damage was already done as the Wildcats had plated five runners in the top of the sixth and taken a 6-1 lead.

Taking the mound with a comfortable lead, Grundy walked two in the bottom of the sixth but didn’t let the runners cause any damage, leaving two stranded and the Crusaders scoreless in the bottom half.

With Miller on the mound for Valpo, the Wildcats went down in order in the top of the seventh. Shepherd took the hill for Kentucky in the bottom of the seventh and shut down Valpo in the bottom half.

Kennedy took the mound for Valpo in the top of the eighth, retiring the first out of the inning. Riddle laid down a bunt down the left side to reach first before stealing second with two outs. Reida rolled a slow groundball toward the Valpo second baseman, reaching safely for an RBI single. Riddle was stealing on the pitch and able to score from second on the slow roller. Kennedy forced a groundout to end the inning but Kentucky increased the lead to 7-1 through seven and a half.

Shepherd came back out for Kentucky, sitting down the Valpo batters in order in the bottom of the eighth.

McCarthy led off for the Wildcats in the top half of the ninth inning, knocking a double into left center, his 20th of the year. Reed grounded out up the middle for the first out of the inning, advancing McCarthy to third. Williams smoked a groundball to third that was misplayed, reaching first on an error and allowing McCarthy to come across to increase the lead to 8-1.

Shepherd came out in the bottom of the ninth to finish off the three-inning save effort but dealt with some trouble early. Mahoney led off with a double deep into left center. Shepherd forced pinch-hitter Johnson into a groundout to first, moving Mahoney over to third. A fly out to left field and strikeout closed the game for Kentucky, stranding Mahoney on third and claiming the 8-1 victory for the Wildcats.

GAME NOTES: Kentucky turned its 48th double play of the year in the first inning and its 49th to end the second frame … Zac Zellers stole his sixth and seventh bases of 2012, his first career two steal game … Jerad Grundy picked off his third of the year and UK’s SEC-leading 20th … J.T. Riddle doubled for the 12th time … Matt Reida who recorded his 10th two-out RBI … Austin Cousino doubled off the wall in centerfield, his team-high 20th double of the year … Cousino stole home for his 14th steal of the year … Thomas McCarthy stole his fourth base as part of the double steal with Cousino stealing home … Riddle stole his third base of the year in the eighth inning … McCarthy doubled for the 20th time … McCarthy and Cousino are now tied for the 11th most double in UK single-season history … Grundy worked his sixth quality start of the year … Chandler Shepherd recorded his first career save … UK has now equaled the school record, set in 2006 (44-17) and 2008 (44-19), for wins in a season … UK has shattered the school record for saves in a season (21), with a total of six UK players recording a save in 2012 … UK now owns a 36-6 record in day games and an 8-2 record in blue jerseys and gray pants … UK is 11-13 in NCAA Tournament play in its seven all-time appearances.

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