Baseball Cats are set up well for the weekend after taking care of Miss. State

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 24, 2012 

HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky had plenty to celebrate after Thursday's 5-1 victory over Mississippi State.

The fourth-seeded Wildcats improved to 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, advancing to Saturday's final four at Regions Park.

They did so by avenging last weekend's three-game sweep at the hands of their former coach, John Cohen.

Thomas McCarthy led the way by rapping four of UK's 11 hits, tying a tournament record with three doubles. He also scored three times.

Left-handers Jerad Grundy (5-3) and Alex Phillips combined on a four-hitter.

And, although there's no guarantee, the Cats are now odds-on favorites to host an NCAA regional.

"With as many wins as we have, I would think that we're going to be able to host," Coach Gary Henderson said. "That would be my guess. You just never know."

UK (43-15), ranked 12th in the nation, is one win shy of the school record set under Cohen in 2006 and matched in 2008.

Henderson has played his cards well.

He used mid-week starter A.J. Reed in the tournament opener against Ole Miss, with usual Friday starter Taylor Rogers in relief. Coming back with Grundy and Phillips, Henderson has an ace in the hole.

Corey Littrell, UK's Sunday starter all season, will go in Saturday's 1 p.m. EDT game against the winner of Friday's elimination tilt between seventh-seeded Mississippi State (36-22) and top-seeded LSU (43-15). Both of those teams already have used their No. 1 starters here.

Rogers will be ready to go if UK reaches Sunday's finals.

"It's been awesome — put ourselves in that position," said Henderson, whose staff has allowed one run in 18 innings. "We'll have two guys ready to roll."

After Friday, the double-elimination portion of the tournament is over. In the final four, it's win or go home.

UK, which earned a day off with each of its wins here, has yet to use closer Trevor Gott.

Grundy's only stumble Thursday came where he has come to expect it — in the first. Coming in, he had allowed 12 first-inning runs and had a 7.07 first-inning ERA.

Three singles, including Trey Porter's two-out RBI hit, put UK in a 1-0 hole.

But Grundy settled down, and UK's bats came alive. The Cats made it tough on the Bulldogs with aggressive base-running and solid defense.

McCarthy was the main man on offense.

"I was relaxed at the plate and aggressive early," he said. "And, fortunately, found some holes, and it all worked out for me."

He and Luke Maile triggered a two-run third inning with singles, putting runners on the corners.

Michael Williams rapped the first of his three singles to drive in McCarthy.

J.T. Riddle's sacrifice fly made it 2-1.

McCarthy also led off the fifth with a double, and A.J. Reed drove him home with a one-out single, his fifth hit of the tournament.

After the first, Grundy gave up one more single and allowed only two runners to reach second base.

He worked six innings, walked two and matched his career high with nine strikeouts.

"It's just one of those days where you happen to have all three of your pitches working, and throwing them for a strike," said Grundy, who throws a fastball, cutter and change-up. "That doesn't happen very often and when it does, you're going to have a good day."

Phillips came on to start the seventh. After getting the first two batters, he hit No. 9 batter Daryl Norris.

Left fielder Zac Zellers made a diving grab in the gap to rob Adam Frazier of extra bases.

UK tacked on two runs in the ninth.

McCarthy doubled in Matt Reida, who had walked.

After Maile singled, McCarthy scored on Reed's sacrifice fly.

Phillips issued a one-out walk in the ninth, but he wrapped up his seventh save when pinch hitter Brayden Jones grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

"Kentucky really pitched well," Cohen said. "I think they did a nice job of executing their game plan. ... I think they're on a little bit of a mission today, obviously. We had some pretty hotly contested games last weekend in Starkville, and they definitely wanted this baseball game. They did a nice job in their execution, and we didn't."

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

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