Cats beat WKU in 'relieving' fashion

Wednesday's game against Western Kentucky turned out to be quite a relief for the No. 11 Kentucky baseball team.

Eight UK relievers combined to shut out Western Kentucky over the final six innings as the Cats beat the Hilltoppers 12-5 in front of a season-high 2,616 fans at Cliff Hagan Stadium Wednesday.

After the win, UK head baseball coach John Cohen spoke of the strategy involved in emptying his bullpen.

"It frees them up for the weekend," Cohen said. "Nobody gets up in the 50-pitch range and you don't have to worry about not pitching them on the weekend. When you get to Wednesday you either get to have nine supervised bullpens or you can let them throw an inning in the game.

"The kids would much rather throw that one inning to get ready than have to throw a bullpen session," Cohen said.

Western Kentucky batted around against UK starter Tommy Warner in the third inning, scoring five runs on six hits to take a 5-1 lead. But the Hilltoppers would not score again.

Cohen sent Colby Brown to the hill to start the fourth inning, beginning a revolving-door eight different relievers that stifled the Western Kentucky hitters.

The UK skipper was pleased with the way his hurlers attacked the strike zone. His staff walked just one batter and beamed another on the game after allowing 32 free passes in the Cats' series loss to Arkansas over the weekend.

"This is what we need," Cohen said. "We need guys to attack the zone early in the count and that's what happened. I think that is the most positive thing that came out of the night."

UK cut the lead 5-3 in the bottom of the third when Sean Coughlin plated two runs on a double down the right field line. The double was his SEC-leading 13th of the season. The senior catcher finished the game 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Coughlin leads the nation with 44 RBIs this season.

"To put up 12 runs, I think we saw the ball a little better today than we did this weekend," Coughlin said. "We had some questionable at-bats and we took practice yesterday to try to expand our zone a little bit just in case we had a zone that was bigger than usual."

Coughlin was referencing Sunday's 14-5 loss to Arkansas in which Cohen was ejected for arguing balls and strikes with the home-plate umpire.

"We did a better job with the strike zone today," Coughlin said. "We put balls in play and hit the ball hard all day so it was a good day for us."

With Coughlin sitting on second base, Brian Spear ripped a grounder up the middle of the diamond later in the inning. Coughlin scored, but Spear was thrown out trying to advance to second, ending the inning.

Three straight walks from loaded the bases for the Cats with no outs in the bottom of the fifth. Western Kentucky reliever Ben walked his first batter, forced a run home and tied the game 5-5. Matt McKinney, UK's next batter, grounded into a 6-4-3 double-play that plated one more run and gave the Cats a 6-5 lead.

Freshman Clint Tilfrod was fortunate enough to pitch the top-half of that fifth inning. He was awarded with the first win of his career.

UK added six more runs in the seventh inning to extend their lead to the eventual final score of 12-5.

Troy Ragle made his first appearance of the season, coming in to relieve Duran Ferguson in the sixth inning. Ragle had been nursing an injured throwing hand after taking a line drive off the bat of Sean Coughlin in practice the day before the Cats' season-opener at Furman. The senior left-hander struck out the only batter he faced.

Tyler Henry, Brock Baber, James Paxton and Aaron Lovett also logged innings out of the pen.

UK now leads the overall series with the Hilltoppers 29-19-1, though the last opponent to beat UK in a mid-week game was Western Kentucky, who defeated the Cats 7-6 on March 7 of last season.

The Cats improve to 21-2 (1-2 Southeastern Conference) and will resume play this weekend as they travel to Baton Rouge for a three-game series with LSU.

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