HOOVER, Ala. -- A.J. Reed worked five innings to improve to 11-2 on the year and Austin Cousino drove in three wins, leading Kentucky to a 7-1 win over No. 24 Alabama in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, on a gorgeous Tuesday night at the Hoover Met.
Kentucky (33-22) posted the win in the single-elimination format over the Crimson Tide, with the result advancing the Wildcats to the double-elimination format. UK will now face SEC Champion and No. 11 Florida, on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET, with the Gators earning a bye from the Tuesday single-elimination format. Florida will turn to ace freshman righty Logan Shore (7-2, 1.69 ERA) for the start.
“I’m really glad to win, obviously,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “We are looking forward to being able to stay here and play some more baseball. I’m really proud of the effort of our kids today. It was just a really, really good day on the mound for us, with A.J. getting his 11th win of the year.”
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed (11-2) worked five innings, allowing six hits and one run, walking two and striking out two, while pitching on short rest after beating Georgia on Thursday night in Athens, Ga. The win now gives Reed sole possession of third in UK single-season history and marked his 18th career victory, good for 10th in UK history.
“A.J. did a good job competing on short rest,” UK shortstop Matt Reida said. “You could see a little fatigue early and he did a great job battling, throwing strikes. He kept attacking their hitters and making them put it in play. It’s a big park so that definitely plays a role in it. He did a great job.
Reed added a 1-for-3 game at the plate with a double and a pair of walks. On the year, Reed has an 11-2 record and a 2.10 ERA in 103 innings, allowing 29 walks and striking out 68. At the plate, Reed is sporting a .358 average with 15 doubles, with his 23 homers and .786 slugging percentage leading college baseball, and his 70 RBI and 44 walks pacing the conference.
UK junior righty Andrew Nelson came on to start the bottom of the sixth inning and worked the final four innings, allowing just two singles, striking out one, picking up his first career save. Nelson has worked 11 shutout innings in his last three outings and has worked 12.2 innings vs. Alabama in 2014, allowing just two earned runs.
“I was effective today because I did a good job of getting on top of some balls, on top of the fastball,” Nelson said. “I did a good job of letting the ball sink. They were just missing it a few times on some good pitches. I made some bad pitches that they hit well. This ballpark is huge so we made some good plays, had good defense behind us. It was easy to stay loose because it was warm. It was easy to stay comfortable because we were scoring so many runs.”
UK collected nine hits in the cavernous Hoover Met, with Cousino going 1-for-3 with three RBI and a walk. Reida, Storm Wilson and JaVon Shelby each notched two-hit games, with Micheal Thomas doubling for the ninth time. UK also got an RBI from Max Kuhn, who also drew a walk, with Thomas Bernal scoring a run on a pair of hit by pitches.
“The left side of our infield, and (second baseman) JaVon even, was outstanding today,” Henderson said. “They did a really, really nice job, made several tremendous plays. It is nice to see them get better. We are playing better defense as the season moves along.”
Kentucky will be meeting Florida for the fourth time in 2014, with UK posting a series win over the then-No. 12 Gators to open the month of April. UK posted a 17-1 win in the opener, suffered an 11-10 loss in the middle game and then won the rubber match with a 9-8 result. First pitch is slated for 5:30 p.m. ET and the game will be televised live on CSS and ESPN3.com. 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 game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Alabama (34-22) starter Nick Eicholtz (3-2) worked over one inning, allowing two runs on no hits and four walks. Righty Jay Shaw came on in a bases-loaded jam in the second inning with no outs, allowing just two runs to score on the Eicholtz line. Shaw worked three innings, allowing four hits and two runs, not issuing a walk and striking out two. Ray Castillo took over to star the fifth inning, working one inning and allowing a pair of runs. Mitch Greer, Tucker Hawley and Taylor Guilbeau each worked in relief for Bama.
The Wildcats got on the board in the second inning, as Bernal was hit by the first pitch of the frame and Wilson and Thomas drew walks to load the bases for Reida. Reida then lofted a sacrifice fly with a full-count to leftfield, scoring Bernal. After Shelby singled off the wall in leftfield to re-load the bags, Cousino beat out the back-end of a double play to force in Wilson and give UK an early 2-0 lead.
Alabama rallied in the bottom of the third inning, as Georgie Salem led off with a single, chopped through the right side. After a strikeout, slugging catcher Wade Wass worked the count full, before smashing a double into the left-center field gap, scoring the speedy Salem from first base.
Kentucky got the two runs back in the top of the fourth inning, as Wilson and Reida led off with singles hit to the opposite field. After a pair of outs, Cousino lofted a fly-ball single into shallow rightfield, allowing Wilson to score, with Reida just beating the throw to the plate with a head-first slide, giving UK a 4-1 lead.
The Wildcats added two runs in the top of the sixth inning, as Reida led off with a single up the middle and Shelby drew a walk. Cousino then loaded the bases with a perfect sacrifice bunt, reaching on an error. Kuhn followed and grounded up the middle, with Alabama getting Cousino out in between second and third and Shelby scoring.
UK added a run in the eighth inning as Shelby led off with a single and Cousino followed with a walk. After a deep fly out advanced both runners into scoring position and Reed was intentionally walked for the SEC-leading 15th time, Tom beat out the back end of a double play to score Shelby and give UK a 7-1 lead.