HOOVER, Ala. — A.J. Reed did it all for Kentucky in Tuesday's opening game of the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament.
The freshman went 4-for-4 at the plate, including a solo homer to open the scoring, and fired 52⁄3 innings of five-hit ball as the Wildcats blanked Mississippi 2-0.
"Obviously an outstanding performance by him on the mound and at the plate," Coach Gary Henderson said. "Good players show up late in the season. They show up when it's important, and that's what he did today."
The win earned the fourth-seeded Cats, ranked 11th nationally, a Wednesday bye in the double-elimination event.
They will play Thursday's second game at Regions Park, in the early afternoon, against the winner of Wednesday's game between Mississippi State and top-seeded LSU.
Ninth-seeded Ole Miss (34-23) is on a five-game losing streak going into Wednesday's elimination game against Arkansas.
UK (42-15) snapped a four-game losing streak and beat Ole Miss for the third time in four meetings this season.
Taylor Rogers, UK's usual Friday night starter, made his first relief outing of the year and second of his career. The junior gave up two hits over 31⁄3 innings for the save.
"I looked at it for a couple of days solid in terms of what would be the best thing for us, give us the best chance to win," Henderson said. "I really wanted him on the mound if we had a lead. ... I felt the ballpark and the opposition matched up well for him."
Was it a gamble to give Reed his first SEC start?
"I thought it would be a gamble to go the other way," Henderson said. "... I wasn't confident that Rogers would be strong enough on a short rest to give us six (innings), and I was very confident that he would give us three or four. And if he was going to give us three or four, I wanted them in the middle so it didn't feel like we were taking a starter out before we had five. Sometimes that's a little bit of a letdown for your club.
"I certainly didn't know we'd get 52⁄3 out of A.J. I was hoping to get three or four. ...What I really wanted was that shot of adrenaline with Rogers in the middle of the game. If necessary, then you've got Alex (Phillips), Timmy (Peterson) and Trevor (Gott) down there" in the bullpen.
Reed (5-2) struck out three and walked one. Fellow left-hander Rogers fanned two.
Both teams finished with seven hits. All were singles except for Reed's home run.
Reed's four hits beat his previous best by one.
"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."
Reed had gone 15-for-75 (.200) since April 1, and 6-for-39 (.154) over his last 14 games. Tuesday, he raised his average 28 points to .326.
Reed got UK's first hit, a first-inning dribbler that handcuffed shortstop Blake Newalu on a hurried pickup attempt.
Ole Miss right-hander Bobby Wahl (6-3), second in the league with a 2.20 ERA, retired the next eight in a row.
That brought up Reed with one out in the fourth.
He drilled a 2-0 pitch over the wall in right.
That would be all that was needed as UK improved to 30-1 when leading through four innings, 37-0 when leading through seven.
Reed stranded a pair of runners in the first and third innings, and one in the fifth.
Matt Snyder, who went 4-for-4, led off the Ole Miss sixth with his third hit.
One out later, Reed's errant pickoff throw moved Snyder to second.
Auston Bousfield's single put runners on the corners.
Reed got John Gatlin to ground sharply to Luke Maile near the first-base bag.
Maile caught Snyder in a rundown. By the time the out was made, though, Bousfield reached third and Gatlin got to second.
Henderson then called on Rogers, who got Preston Overbey to ground weakly to second.
"The story of the game is our inability to score and get runners on," Rebels Coach Mike Bianco said. "Once again, this has happened to us the past few weeks where we've had the same amount of hits or more and just struggled to get that timely hit, and we kind of struggled again today."
Maile drew a walk to open the bottom of the inning, then took third on Reed's single.
One out later, Cameron Flynn delivered a run-scoring single to right.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com