LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Thomas Bernal dropped a two-RBI double down the leftfield line to score the game-tying and go-ahead runs to cap a dramatic 4-2 comeback win for No. 22 Kentucky over Kent State, on a hot Saturday afternoon, in front of 2,258 at Louisville’s Jim Patterson Stadium.
The Wildcats faced a two-run hole after allowing four consecutive singles to open the first inning. Kent State then rode a strong pitching performance from right-handed changeup artist Nick Jensen-Clagg, who carried a three-hit shutout into the ninth inning with a 2-0 lead.
Kentucky (36-24) then mounted a one-out rally to take the lead in thrilling fashion. Max Kuhn started the rally with a single down the leftfield line to bring up A.J. Reed – the National Player of the Year and the starting pitcher. Reed smashed a RBI double into the right-centerfield gap, scoring Kuhn to cut the lead to 2-1. That ended the game for Jensen-Clagg, with Kent State turning to flame-throwing closer John Fasola.
After UK elected to pinch run for Reed with speedy freshman outfielder Marcus Carson, first-team All-Southeastern Conference outfielder Ka’ai Tom struck out looking for the second out. That brought up fifth-year senior catcher Micheal Thomas, who drew a walk to bring freshman Storm Wilson to the dish. Wilson got in a 1-2 hole, before fighting off a two-strike pitch and drawing a full-count walk to load the bases for Bernal.
Bernal, a native of Paso Robles, Calif., lofted a double into shallow leftfield, with Carson scoring the tying run and Thomas motoring from second base to give the Wildcats its first lead of the NCAA Tournament. Senior shortstop Matt Reida then singled through the left side to score Bernal and stretch UK’s lead to 4-2.
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed then came out for the ninth inning, despite being lifted as a position player for the pinch runner Carson. Reed worked around a leadoff single with a fly ball and then got a grounder hit to Reida, who had moved to second base to allow freshman Connor Heady to take over at shortstop. Reida fielded it cleanly and flipped to Heady, who stepped on the bag and fired a strike to Bernal to end the game and keep UK alive in the NCAA Tournament.
Reed (12-2) moves into second in UK single-season history with his SEC-leading 12 wins. He worked nine innings – not facing a three-ball count over his 107 pitches – allowing nine hits and two runs, striking out three. All of his damage allowed came in the first inning with the four consecutive singles to open the game. He then settled in to retire 14 consecutive hitters from the first to fifth innings, working around a two singles in the seventh, a single in the eighth and the leadoff knock in the ninth.
In his three-year career, Reed has hit .309 with 35 doubles, three triples, 40 homers and 166 RBI. In 2014, He has hit .346, with 18 doubles, one triple, a NCAA-leading 23 homers and 71 RBI. On the mound, Reed has a 2.09 ERA in 16 starts in 2014, striking out 71 in 112 innings. In his pitching career, Reed has 19 wins and a 2.83 ERA in 248 innings, striking out 174. Reed now ranks third in UK history in career ERA, 10th in wins, 12th in innings pitched.
UK now advances to Sunday with the thrilling win, with UK set to face off with the loser of the Kansas-Louisville game, currently in progress at the time of press. First pitch of the elimination game will be slated for 12 p.m. ET at Jim Patterson Stadium and the game will be televised on ESPN3. The game will also be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the gam live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky will be facing either Kansas or Louisville, with KU owning a 10-6 win over Kentucky on Friday night in the NCAA Tournament opener. UK swept Louisville in a two-game, home-and-home midweek series in 2014 and have won three of the last four meetings with the Cards in Louisville.
The Wildcats were led at the plate by Reida, who had a 2-for-4 game, while playing flawless shortstop. UK also got hits from Kuhn, Reed, Thomas and Bernal, with Reed driving in his SEC-leading 71st run of the year while cranking his 18th double of 2014. UK also got a walk and run from Wilson and a run from Carson.
The Flashes took the lead in the first inning, as Jon Wilson led off with a single, blooped into the teeth of a stiff wind in shallow right-centerfield, with centerfielder Austin Cousino’s diving attempt just missing. Troy Summers then laid down a perfect bunt single and Cody Koch singled to centerfield to load the bases. Zarley Zalenski then followed with a single just out of the reach of a diving Reida up the middle, scoring Wilson and Summers. T.J. Sutton then laid down a sac bunt, with Kuhn making a great play to get the out at first base, with the runners moving into scoring position with one out. Reed then settled in to get a key strikeout, before a comebacker ended the inning without further damage.