Vanderbilt's baseball team has gotten a lot of notice this week: a No. 1 national ranking, a glowing Sports Illustrated article on its pitching staff, and a long New York Times piece on Commodores senior Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski.
While sweeping host Kentucky 11-3 and 5-3 on Saturday, Vandy looked comfortable in the spotlight. The Commodores raked UK pitching for 28 hits, and aces Kevin Ziomek (10-2) and Tyler Beede (13-0) did their jobs, as did the bullpen.
Vandy improved to 23-2 in the SEC, the best start in conference history.
UK slipped to 10-16 in the SEC. The Cats have lost 14 of their last 17 in the league as they try to keep their hopes for an NCAA bid alive.
UK junior second baseman J.T. Riddle said Vandy looked deserving of its lofty ranking.
"They all stroke the ball. They're a great offensive club," he said. "Their pitching is outstanding, not only their starters but their bullpen guys, too. They definitely look like one of the better teams in the nation, for sure."
Vandy had to work for its win in the nightcap.
The Cats, down 3-1, rallied in the sixth when Austin Cousino led off with a walk and Riddle followed with a single. After Max Kuhn's sacrifice, Cousino scored on a passed ball to make it 3-2.
After Beede walked Matt Reida, he was lifted for reliever Carson Fulmer. With Riddle representing the tying run at third, Beede's 12-for-12 streak of winning starts this year was in jeopardy. But Fulmer got a strikeout and fielder's choice to end the threat.
Vandy extended its lead to 5-2 on Yastrzemski's two-run double in the seventh.
UK made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth when it loaded the bases with one out. After Fulmer struck out Greg Fettes, Jared Miller came on to face Cousino.
With an 0-2 count, Miller threw a wild pitch that allowed Paul McConkey to score, making it 5-3. But Miller struck out Cousino with the next pitch to end it.
UK Coach Gary Henderson said the Cats' inability to cash in chances cost them.
"When you have opportunities against really good people, you've got to take advantage of them because those opportunities don't come along very often," Henderson said.
That was UK's bugaboo in the opener, too, when it got only three runs on 12 hits.
"That's the best we've hit 1-through-9 as a team in the past month," Riddle said.
Vandy's offense made the most of its chances, notably when it erupted for seven runs in the fifth to take a 10-1 lead.
Ziomek, a junior left-hander, went six innings and scattered seven hits. He surrendered one earned run — Max Kuhn's homer — and struck out four.
Henry Clay graduate Walker Buehler, a freshman righthander, worked the last three innings for Vandy. He gave up five hits, one run and had two K's. On the season Buehler is 3-1 with 39 strikeouts and 23 walks in 44 innings, and a 2.50 ERA.
UK's A.J. Reed had the roughest outing in his two-year career. He gave up 12 hits and 10 earned runs in five innings as he suffered his seventh loss in nine decisions.
UK tries to salvage a win against Vandy on Sunday before going to Missouri for its last SEC series of the season next weekend.
"Sunday's big for us," Riddle said. "If we can get a big win here against the No. 1 team in the nation, it'll look good on our résumé."
No. 1 Vanderbilt at Kentucky
When: 1 p.m.
TV/radio: FS South, WLAP-AM 630
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.