GEORGE: Bags packed for Hoover

It is time for the Batcats to begin packing for a trip to Hoover, Alabama. With an 18-5 rout over the 19th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs on Friday night, Kentucky made it official: they are going to the SEC tournament.

They clinched a tournament berth for the first time since 2000, and became the first team in the conference to punch their postseason ticket this season. And they did so in dominant fashion.

The Batcats blasted six home runs, a season-high, and pounded out 19 hits against the Bulldogs on the way to a 13-run win, their largest margin for an SEC victory since 1997. Kentucky has hit a league-best 81 home runs this season.

"I have to be honest with you," head coach John Cohen said, "it is surprising to me how many balls we are hitting out of the ballpark. I knew we could hit and I knew we were going to have offensive success, but its surprising to me how many balls we are hitting out of the yard."

Designated hitter Sean Coughlin led the charge for the Batcats on Friday.

Kentucky took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the first when Coughlin smashed a 2-run home run to straight away center. It would be a lead they would never relinquish.

John Shelby followed Coughlin with a double and two batters later, shortstop Ryan Wilkes drove him in with a single to extend UK's lead to 4-2.

Kentucky manufactured a run in the second inning. Antone DeJesus reached first when a third strike got by the catcher, allowing him to beat the throw to first. DeJesus advanced to second base on a wild pitch from Mississippi State starter Brooks Dunn before scoring when Ryan Strieby hit a bloop single over the shortstop's head. The RBI was Strieby's first since the Vanderbilt series two weeks ago.

Dunn held the Batcats scoreless for the next two innings before John Shelby blasted a high, majestic home run to left field, extending Kentucky's lead to 6-2.

A homerun from Bulldog left fielder Jeff Butts closed the gap to 6-3. But in the bottom of the seventh the Wildcat lineup absolutely exploded. Kentucky batted around, smashing five straight hits against reliever John Lalor to score six runs.

UK batted around again in the eighth, piling on six more runs to jump out to an 18-3 advantage.

The Bulldogs would try to rally in the ninth, scoring two runs, but it was much too little, much too late.

But what turned out to be an exciting night began with a big scare. Already trailing 2-0 in the first inning, starter Aaron Tennyson took a hard hit line drive off the shin. Tennyson fell to the ground in pain before being helped off the field by trainers.

Thankfully, x-rays came back negative, and Tennyson was able to return to the bullpen with just a severe bruise on his shin and cheer on his teammates.

With his starter unavailable due to injury, head coach John Cohen turned to senior Matt Robinson, who, for the second Friday in a row, dominated the opposing lineup.

Robinson took the hill with two outs in the first inning. He pitched seven and two-thirds innings, giving up only one hit, a solo home run to Jeff Butts in the sixth, before being relieved by Troy Ragle in the ninth. The outing was the longest of Robinson's career. Robinson also tied a career high by striking out seven Bulldog hitters.

"Tenny, gives it 110% every time he goes out there," Robinson said, "and it is very unfortunate that he had to come out that early in the game. Earlier in the week he threw an incredible bullpen. I had a ton of confidence in him that he could go all nine tonight."

But Robinson noted that as a reliever, you always have to be ready for unfortunate things to happen.

"No matter what, you always expect to pitch," Robinson said. "Crazy things happen in baseball. I was just happy to get the opportunity and was glad to be able to go as long as I did."

With the win, Kentucky improved to 38-11 (17-8 in the SEC) and moved to two games ahead of Alabama for overall first place in the conference. Mississippi State falls to 33-17 (11-13 in the SEC).

The Wildcats hope to avoid any more misfortunes in game two on Saturday at 7 p.m. They will send left hander Craig Snipp (5-3, 3.30 ERA) against MSU's Justin Pigott (5-0, 0.94 ERA)


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