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May 11, 2012For most of Kentucky's record-breaking baseball season, the bats have carried the Wildcats. But Friday night, the defense kept the Cats one game out of first place in the Southeastern Conference.
UK junior Taylor Rogers begged and pleaded to be the Cats' No.1 starter before the season began, and after beating the Crimson Tide 4-2 on Friday, UK coach Gary Henderson was happy he obliged.
"I thought he was confident," Henderson said. "His body language was A-plus tonight, he looked like a guy that was on the attack and that was good. He's been hearing that message for about three years. It was fun to watch."
Rogers pitched seven innings, allowing seven hits and two runs, while striking out four batters.
"It's an honor (being the No.1 starter), but it's something I like to do," Rogers said. "I like to come out each weekend and set the tone for us, let the other team know that's what we are here to do."
If Rogers' performance Friday night was setting the tone, Alabama will be in for a long weekend.
Alabama's pair of runs came in the third inning after an error on first baseman A.J. Reed, but Rogers blamed himself.
The Tide's Taylor Dugas hit a hard ground ball in between first and second base, Reed tried to get to it, but second baseman J.T. Riddle scooped it up. Rogers was slow to cover first and Reed hurried to get back but could not make the catch and let the ball go by.
"That was purely my fault," Rogers said. "I have to get over there every time no matter what."
Two Alabama runs soon followed.
But after that blemish, the Cats (39-11, 16-9 Southeastern Conference) only allowed two Alabama runners to reach base the remainder of the game.
Reliever Alex Phillips came on in the eighth inning and did not allow a hit, clinching his sixth save of the season.
"He was efficient, six up and six down," Henderson said. "That was an outing we've come to expect out of him. I was very pleased to see that."
The Cats' offense seemed like it would match the defense in efficiency, scoring four runs in three innings and knocking out Alabama starter Spencer Turnbull in just 2 2/3 innings.
From the fifth through seventh innings, the Cats had a runner in scoring position with no outs but were never able to bring in a run.
"We are still not quite efficient or firing on all cylinders as we were three or four weeks ago," Henderson said. "We have to get it figured it out. But there's still a lot of season left, and all it takes is one or two of those guys to get hot and before you know it, three or four of them are and we are right back to where we need to be."
One Cat who might finally be warming up is senior Thomas McCarthy. He entered Friday on an 0-for-17 streak, but he used eight pitches to drive in two runs in the second inning.
The eventual game-winning run came in the third with the bases loaded. Austin Cousino scored on Luke Maile's fielder's choice.
UK announced after the game that Sunday's series finale would be moved to Saturday as part of a doubleheader due to inclement weather in Sunday's forecast.
The Cats and Crimson Tide will play game two of the series at 2 p.m. Saturday, with game three following the 30 minutes after game two ends.