HOOVER, Ala. -- Behind freshman A.J. Reed’s 5.2 shutout innings in his first start since April 10 and his career-best 4-for-4 day at the plate with a homer, No. 11 Kentucky posted a 2-0 win over Ole Miss in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, on Tuesday morning at Regions Park.
Kentucky (42-15) rode the career game from Reed (5-2), a native of Terre Haute, Ind., for the opening win. After playing three games in Starkville, Miss., over the weekend, UK elected to turn to Reed in his first career start against an SEC foe, with the 6-foot-4, 230-pound southpaw hurling 5.2 shutout innings, scattering five hits and walking one and striking out three.
“I am very proud of our kids,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said. “We came into this week after a disappointing weekend in Starkville, and they could have gone a couple of different ways. They showed up. We had two days of practice that were as good as we have had all year. I am really proud of the kids that we have. They are tough and smart.”
At the dish, Reed hit clean-up and with the game locked in a scoreless tie entering the bottom of the fourth inning, the freshman launched his fourth homer of the year over the rightfield fence for the game-winning RBI. Entering the tournament 3-for-his-last 22, Reed exploded with a career-best four hits.
“I have been struggling a little bit the past couple of weeks,” Reed said. “Going out there and having some success on the mound built my confidence. It also showed me that my team still trusts me and coach gave me a second chance to come out and perform well.”
With the win, Kentucky secures a bye for Wednesday’s second round of the SEC Tournament. The Wildcats will return to action in the second game of the day on Thursday, facing the winner of game six between LSU and either Arkansas or Mississippi State. The UK game Thursday will be televised live on Fox Sports South, with Dave Neal and Larry Conley calling the action. Fans can also hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM in Lexington, WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville and online at UKathletics.com.
UK collected seven hits in the game, getting knocks from Austin Cousino, Cameron Flynn and Zac Zellers, with Luke Maile drawing his fourth two-walk game of the year and scoring a run. Flynn added UK’s second RBI of the game on a single through the right side.
The Wildcats turned to Taylor Rogers in relief of Reed in the sixth inning with the go-ahead run at second base. Rogers got out of the jam and worked 3.1 shutout innings with two strikeouts for his first career save in his second career relief outing.
“It was A.J.’s [Reed] first start of the year against an SEC team,” Henderson said. “Obviously an outstanding performance by him, both on the mound and at the plate. Good players show up late in the season. They show up when it is important and that is what he did today. This might have been Taylor Rogers’ first relief appearance in three years. I looked at it for a couple of days to see what might be the best choice for us, give us the best opportunity to win. I really wanted him on the mound. I wanted to make a statement to our guys that we were putting our Friday night guy out there to win.”
Ole Miss (34-23) starter Bobby Wahl (6-3) worked six innings, allowing six hits and two runs, walking two and striking out six. Tanner Bailey relieved him to start the seventh, hurling two shutout innings with a strikeout to end the game.
Reed started his day off with two quick outs in the top of the first but slugger Matt Snyder and Ole Miss didn’t let him finish the first inning without a battle. Snyder singled up the middle with two outs and an Will Allen walk placed runners on first and second with no outs. Reed came back after allowing tow to reach with two outs, forcing a fly out to Cousino in centerfield to end the top half of the first.
Kentucky followed suit, after two quick outs in the bottom half of the first, Maile worked Wahl and found his way to first base from a base on balls. Playing both ways, Reed legged out an infield single to place runners on first and second with two outs. Like Reed, Wahl was able to work his way out of a similar two-out jam, claiming a strikeout to take the game to the top of the second.
The second inning sailed by without a blemish, Ole Miss and Kentucky both went three up and three down to leave the game scoreless through two.
The Rebels threatened with two outs again in the top of the third. All-America second baseman Alex Yarbrough reached on a hit by pitch and moved over to third on Snyder’s well-placed single down the left field. With Yarbrough just 90 feet from the plate, Reed forced a ground out to Thomas McCarthy at third to end the threat in the top of the third.
With three and a half scoreless innings in the books, Reed struck for Kentucky, drilling a home run over the deep right field wall at Regions Park. Reed’s homer gave himself a 1-0 cushion as he took the mound in the top of the fifth.
Andrew Mistone led off the Rebels with a single to left field in the top of the fifth. Playing small ball, Mistone advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Blake Newalu as the top of the Ole Miss lineup loomed. Tanner Mathis drilled a ground ball up the middle but Reed snagged it before it got past the mound and caught Mistone heading to third. The Wildcats cashed in on the rundown situation to earn the second out of the inning but Mathis was available to reach second during the play. Reed left Mathis stranded at second, forcing a groundout to finish his fifth scoreless inning.
The bottom of the fifth featured two hits for the Wildcats as Zellers hit a one-out single to right center. Cousino singled to right center with two outs, giving Kentucky runners on first and third with two outs. Kentucky wasn’t able to take advantage of the runner on the third and finished the fifth still leading 1-0.
Ole Miss missed an opportunity in the top of the sixth after Snyder led off with a single to right field. Reed struck out Allen but with one out Snyder advanced to second on a botched pickoff at first caused by an errant throw from Reed. Auston Bousfield lined up the middle for a single but Snyder only advanced to third after having to hesitate to make sure the liner made it through the infield. With runners on first and third, John Gatlin grounded it to Maile at first who caught Snyder leaning toward home and gunned him out. Rogers took over for Reed with runners on second and third and two outs and got the Wildcats out of the jam by forcing a groundout to J.T. Riddle at second.
Kentucky added more in the bottom of the sixth as Ole Miss starter Wahl walked Maile to lead off the inning. Reed moved Maile over to third with his third hit of the day, leaving runners on first and third. Flynn stepped up for the Wildcats, singling to right to bring in Maile from third. Wahl was able to minimize the damage for Ole Miss but the Wildcats still increased their lead to two runs through six innings.
Ole Miss’ Mathis singled with two outs in the top of the seventh but Rogers forced a groundout to end top half. Bailey replaced Wahl on the mound in the bottom of the seventh and retired the Wildcats in order as the game headed to the eighth still 2-0.
Snyder led off the Rebels in the top of the eighth with his fourth single of the game but would be gunned at second on a strike-out, throw-out double play for Kentucky. Rogers got Bousfield to fly out to center to end the inning.
With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Reed smacked his fourth hit of the game before Brian Adams came on to pinch run. Attempting to take second, Adams was thrown out, the first time he has been caught stealing this year. Williams flied out to end the inning and the Wildcats entered the final inning still ahead with a 2-0 lead.
Rogers stayed on in the ninth to record his first career save after making 17 consecutive starts. Rogers struck out the leadoff hitter and forced two fly outs to give the Wildcats a victory in game one of the 2012 SEC Tournament.