Baseball: UK beats WKU for 19th straight home victory

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2012 

Michael Williams

CHET WHITE

With Kentucky's baseball team streaking in the right direction, the Wildcats made a point of stopping a streak in the wrong direction Tuesday.

Michael Williams and Austin Cousino each drove in three runs as UK upended Western Kentucky 7-4 at Cliff Hagan Stadium, snapping a four-game losing streak to the Hilltoppers.

Williams, who went 2-for-3 and walked in four plate appearances, didn't need to be reminded about Western's recent superiority.

"Oh, I was aware because I was here when we got beat (24-8 in 2010), so I always like to put it to them," he said. "They have a great club, and it's always an honor to beat them."

The Cats, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation (Collegiate Baseball) and No. 10 by Baseball America, extended their home-field winning streak to a school-record 19 games. UK's previous best home streak was 16 games, set in 2007 and again in 2008.

UK pitchers Chandler Shepherd, Sam Mahar, Tim Peterson and Trevor Gott combined to strike out 13 Hilltoppers, while walking four.

Western (10-15) got off to a great start against Shepherd as Ryan Hutchison smacked a two-run homer with one out in the first inning.

The next two Hilltoppers reached safely, but the inning ended when second baseman J.T. Riddle ranged into short center field to make a diving catch. He righted himself in time to double off the runner at second base.

"Chandler Shepherd was a little overexcited, a little emotional the first inning. He paid for it and rebounded nicely," UK Coach Gary Henderson said. "You don't see the play of the game very often in the first inning but, certainly in my mind, J.T.'s play was a game-changer. If you can have a game-changer in the first inning, that was it."

Williams singled in a run in the second to make it 2-1, and he drove in a pair of runs with a fourth-inning single.

"I'm just trying to relax more. I was pressing when I came back from my injury (a broken finger on his catching hand), getting a little frustrated," Williams said. "But I've slowed down my approach and just relaxed and trusted my hands. My coaching staff's doing a great job helping me, and it's coming together good."

When Western put runners on second and third with one out in the fifth, Henderson summoned freshman Mahar from the bullpen.

He struck out 2-3 hitters Jared Andreoli and Hutchison to end the threat. He worked three innings to get the win in his first collegiate decision.

"Just going in, I had a good mentality with the defense behind me," Mahar said. "I knew, putting the ball in play, they'd have my back."

Of course, he kept the ball out of play in the fifth inning.

"Yeah, that's even better," he said. "Really a momentum shift."

UK blew the lead out to 7-2 with a four-run sixth. One run scored on a throwing error, and Cousino did the rest with a first-pitch, three-run homer to the short porch in right field, his third homer of the season.

Western, aided by an error, scored twice in the eighth.

Otherwise, UK's defense was flawless. Included were a pair of diving catches by right fielder Zac Zellers.

"Two great catches in right field," Henderson said. "Riddle's play, that's No. 1 on SportsCenter right there. Lots of good defense tonight."

UK now leads the all-time series 31-24.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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