Feb 17, 2013 9:22 PM
Junior second baseman J.T. Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6 game at the plate and starter Jerad Grundy tied a career-best with nine strikeouts in six innings, sparking No. 8 Kentucky to a 20-3 pounding of Niagara, on Sunday afternoon at Wofford's Russell C. King Field.
Kentucky (2-0) was led in the shellacking of Niagara by the electric bat of Riddle, whose 6-for-6 game set a new UK modern-era record (2002-present), charting a triple off the centerfield wall and a double, finishing just a homer shy of hitting for the cycle. He is the first UK player to collect five or more hits since Marcus Nidiffer went 5-for-6 at Indiana in 2010. In his first two games of 2013, Riddle is 9-for-11 with five runs, three doubles, one triple and four RBI.
"It felt great up there," Riddle said. "It looks like a beach ball right now. I am putting good swings on it, just staying with my techniques and doing what I have to do to get base hits. Whether it is with two strikes or early in the count I am just putting good swings on the ball and a couple of them fell in for me last game."
A native of Frankfort, Ky., and the 2010 Kentucky High School Mr. Baseball, Riddle also owns a 1.273 slugging percentage through his first two contests after pelting the leftfield and rightfield walls with doubles in the opener and the triple off the 15-foot wall in centerfield vs. NU.
"J.T. is just a better player," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "He is more composed, he has always had good composure but it is even better. He is strong. His skill level is improved. He is more disciplined at the plate. Obviously he has better bat speed and the strength issue is really obvious. He is a really, really good player and he has gotten off to a good start."
Grundy (1-0) worked six innings, allowing four hits and two unearned runs, walking one and striking out a career-high tying nine. Sophomore Jeff Boehm took over to start the seventh, working one inning with one run surrendered. Freshman righty Tyler Cox tossing a shutout eighth inning and freshman Zach Strecker made his debut with a shutout ninth inning.
"Jerad had a nice night for us," Henderson said. "Some things that were very noticeable were that in the fourth inning he started to find his secondary stuff and in the fifth inning his velocity stepped up. (He was) much better in the fourth and fifth. He had to throw a few extra pitches in the sixth because we kicked it around a little bit, but a really good outing for Jerad to get the season going."
The Wildcats collected 20 runs on 17 hits, nine walks and three hit batters, also swiping three bases. It was UK's first 20-run output since a beating of Illinois-Chicago in 2012.
"You like a lot of things," Henderson said about UK's offensive attack. "I liked the quality of at bats even from some of the guys who didn't get a lot of hits. I thought Matt Reida had a nice night. A.J. had some really good at bats early on. Max Kuhn is looking comfortable. Really happy for Thomas Bernal to get in there and have the at bats that he did. Zellers had good at bats, Greg Fettes came in off the bench and had a couple really nice swings. There were a lot of positives - Micheal Thomas - just a great day at the plate for us."
UK was led by Riddle's historic game at the dish, with sophomore All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino launching his first career grand slam in his six innings of action, setting a new career-high with four RBI.
The Bat Cats will return to action on Monday, facing USC Upstate at Harley Park at 1 p.m. ET. UK will send junior southpaw Corey Littrell to the mound to face the Spartans. The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Sports Network, with Dick Gabriel on the call. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WWTF 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com.