A.J. Reed trying to hit against Louisville’s defensive shift illustrated the frustrating night Kentucky experienced Sunday.
Leading off the sixth inning, Reed lined a laser into right field. One problem: In U of L’s shift, second baseman Zach Lucas was stationed about 10 yards into right field. The ball went right to him.
With a runner on first in the eighth inning, Reed hit a hard ground ball seemingly headed up the middle and into center field. Instead, U of L turned the unusual short-to-third-to-first double play with the third baseman turning the double play at second.
“We hit a lot of balls hard,” Reed said. “Just didn’t find any holes. That’s how our game goes sometime. Keep grinding it out. Tonight we couldn’t find the hits when we needed them.”
U of L Coach Dan McDonnell said if without the shift, Reed would have had three hits. Instead, Reed went O-for-4 in his final UK game.
UK Coach Gary Henderson saluted his team’s resolve. Although three U of L runs in the seventh inning built a 4-0 lead, Kentucky answered with a run in the bottom of the inning and might have had more. U of L center fielder Cole Sturgeon, who was named Most Outstanding Player, rushed in to catch a liner and then threw out Thomas Bernal at the plate to end the inning.
“We really had a good spirit about us this entire year,” Henderson said of a UK team that finished with a 37-25 record. “We fought really well. I’m really proud of them in that regard.”
UK and U of L competed.
“Typical Kentucky-Louisville athletic event,” Henderson said. “Lots of emotion.”
Emotions boiled over in the seventh. U of L’s Alex Chittenden dove at the knees of Bernal trying to score in the top of the inning. Chittenden said afterward he did not intend to go at Bernal’s knees. He just sort of found himself in that position, he said.
Players rushed out of both dugouts, but emotions did not escalate.
In the bottom of the inning, Bernal went high at U of L catcher Shane Crain in an effort to score. Bernal was ejected.
“I don’t think that’s a lack of respect,” Henderson said of the plays. “It might be heightened respect. There was a lot on the line.”