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Five days after Mississippi State finished a three-game sweep of UK to prevent the Wildcats from earning a share of a Southeastern Conference championship, UK earned a little revenge.
The Wildcats rode six strong innings from junior left-handed pitcher Jerad Grundy and an SEC Tournament-record three doubles from senior third baseman Thomas McCarthy to a 5-1 win versus Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament. With the win, UK advances to the semifinal round in the tournament, where it will face the winner of LSU and Mississippi State on Saturday.
Grundy posted his best start in conference play — surrendering one run on four hits in six innings while striking out a season-high nine batters and walking two — to earn his fifth win of the season. McCarthy finished the game 4-5 with three doubles, one RBI and two runs scored.
The game didn’t start smoothly for Grundy as Mississippi State tallied three hits in the first inning to plate the game’s first run. Grundy settled down after the first inning, holding the Bulldogs scoreless in the next five frames and at one point retiring nine consecutive batters.
“I thought there were a few keys,” UK head coach Gary Henderson told reporters in Hoover, Ala. “One was Jerad [Grundy] finding his rhythm in the second inning. Obviously he faltered a little bit in the first. Just in terms of delivery rhythm and getting ahead, I think we had four 2-0 counts in the first inning. So for him to be able to find a rhythm and create a bit of momentum for us created a little bit more excitement in the dugout.”
“First inning, I was struggling to find my fastball,” Grundy said. “Second inning on, I found real control over my secondary stuff, my slider and my changeup. I kept it down for the most part, and that is why I was able to get the strikeouts. It is a mental approach. I have had the same first inning a couple of times throughout the season in my starts. It is something that I should address moving forward into the regionals.”
UK broke through on the scoreboard in the third inning when McCarthy led off with a single and later scored on a single from senior catcher Michael Williams. A sacrifice fly from sophomore second baseman J. T. Riddle then plated junior catcher Luke Maile, giving the Cats their first lead.
UK added to that lead in the fifth inning freshman designated hitter A. J. Reed singled home McCarthy, who had led off the frame with a double.
In the ninth inning, McCarthy sparked another rally with a RBI-double that scored sophomore shortstop Matt Reida. McCarthy then moved to third on a Maile single and scored on Reed’s sacrifice fly.
Williams finished the game at 3-4 with one RBI, and Maile was 2-5 with one run scored. Senior left-handed pitcher Alex Phillips struck out two batters in three hitless innings of relief to earn his seventh save of the season.
KyForward file photo of Grundy.