HOOVER, Ala. -- Kyle Cody and Chandler Shepherd combined to hold No. 7 Florida to two runs and Max Kuhn belted a two-run homer in the third inning, leading Kentucky to a 4-2 win over the top-seeded Gators, in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, on a perfect Wednesday night at the Hoover Met.
Kentucky (34-22) jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the first and third innings, allowing single Florida tallies in the second and sixth. UK got Kuhn’s two-run homer in the third inning – his eighth of the year – to provide the difference, with Kuhn going 2-for-5 at the plate with two RBI. The homer Kuhn belted as the second of the SEC Tournament and marked the first homer allowed by standout Florida freshman ace Logan Shore (7-3).
“Beyond the fact that was a really good win for our kids, I was proud of their effort,” UK head coach Gary Henderson, who is now 4-2 in his UK career in the SEC Tournament, said. “I was really, really pleased with Kyle Cody. He is back to doing what we thought he was doing to do at the beginning of the year. It was a shot of adrenaline for the kids. That’s the type of outing Kyle is capable of having against that type of team. It was a good win. Now we have to find a couple of more games of pitching.”
A native of Chippewa Falls, Wis., Cody (4-0) worked 5.1 innings, allowing four hits and two runs, walking one and striking out four. It marked Cody’s second consecutive SEC start after the righty missed 21 days due to injury, made 12 relief appearances and returned to the starting role last weekend at Georgia. The 6-foot-7, 240-pounder worked 4.1 shutout innings in his start on Friday at UGA, allowing just a pair of singles. Combined over his last two starts, Cody worked 9.2 innings, allowing two runs.
Shepherd, a native of Louisa, Ky., came on with one out in the sixth inning, getting out of the jam with just one run allowed on the Cody line. Shepherd worked the final 3.2 shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks, striking out three. He picked up his first save of the year and his first since a three-inning save in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Shepherd, who also missed 21 days due to injury, has worked 9.1 shutout innings in relief over his last three appearances.
The win now gives UK three in four meetings against the Gators, with Florida winning the SEC regular-season title outright in 2014. UK posted a series win over UF in early April, besting the Gators 17-1 in the opener, falling 11-10 in the middle game after an eight-run eighth, before winning the rubber match with a 9-8 result.
UK has 10 wins over top-25 foes and a 7-3 record vs. top-10 opponents in 2014. With its three wins over Florida in a single season, it marked the most for UK since sweeping the Gators in 1993 and claiming an SEC Tournament meeting. Over the four games with UF, the Wildcats have outscored Florida 40-22.
The Wildcats will now face the winner of the Mississippi State and South Carolina meeting, in progress at publication time. First pitch of the game will be 30 minutes following the conclusion of the first game, slated for a 5:30 p.m. ET first pitch. The game will be televised live on CSS/ESPN3 and 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 game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
UK was led at the plate by Kuhn’s two knocks, with UK also getting a two-hit game from fifth-year senior catcher Micheal Thomas. A.J. Reed, the NCAA leader in homers, slugging and OPS, belted a double off the top of the wall in right-centerfield, his 16th of the year, UK also got an RBI double from Ka’ai Tom, an RBI from Thomas Bernal and a single, walk and steal from Storm Wilson. Centerfielder Austin Cousino set the tone for UK’s offense at the top of the order, opening the game with a 10-pitch walk and finishing 1-for-3 with two runs and a hit by pitch, the 47th of his career, a UK record.
“Credit Kentucky’s pitchers,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Kyle Cody’s fastball had life to it and Chandler Shepherd did a nice job coming out of the bullpen. Credit Kentucky, as they did a nice job on the mound tonight.
Florida (37-20) starter Shore (7-3) worked 5.2 innings, allowing six hits and four runs, walking two and striking five. Lefty Kirby Snead took over with a runner on and two outs in the sixth, getting a fly out to escape the jam. Snead worked two shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out one. Ryan Harris took over for Snead in the eighth, getting three outs and walking one. Justin Shafer came on to get the final out of the ninth inning.
Kentucky got on the board in the top of the first inning, as Cousino led off the game with a 10-pitch walk, fouling off four straight 95 mph or better fastballs, before taking first base. Kuhn then singled off the diving glove of UF third baseman John Sternagel. Tom then smashed a double into the left-centerfield gap, scoring Cousino and pushing Kuhn to third with one out. Bernal hung a sacrifice fly to centerfield, allowing Kuhn to score and give UK a 2-0 lead.
The Gators answered in the bottom of the second inning, as Braden Mattson doubled into the left-centerfield gap, taking third on a well-placed groundout and scoring on Peter Alonso’s groundout up the middle.
The Wildcats added two runs to their lead in the top of the third inning, as Cousino was hit by his UK record 47th pitch of his career. Kuhn then smashed his eighth homer of the year over the leftfield fence, giving UK a 4-1 lead.
Florida mounted a rally in the sixth inning, as a one-out walk and single ended the game for Cody. UK turned to Shepherd, who worked the count full to Taylor Gushue, before walking the bases loaded for Mattson, who lined a sacrifice fly to centerfield to score Richie Martin and cut the lead to 4-2.