Alex Meyer finished his three-year UK career with 253 strikeouts, fifth most in school history. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
When Alex Meyer was selected in the first round of the MLB Amateur Draft in 2011, it seemed a matter of time before he would make his debut in the major leagues with the Washington Nationals. After nearly two years and a trade to the Minnesota Twins, it's clear Meyer won't be pitching for the Nationals.
That doesn't mean the former Kentucky ace won't be in the big leagues soon though.
Meyer has been with Double-A New Britain through the first month of 2013 and - just as he has done throughout his professional career - he's been impressive. He has made four starts and has a 1.64 earned-run average and a perfect 2-0 record, striking out 26 and allowing zero home runs in 22.0 innings in the process. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound right-hander has allowed no more than two runs in any outing this season and has lasted six innings in each of his last two starts.
The knuckle curve is baseball's wild card pitch. A handful of pitchers have thrown it, and nearly always it is a pitch they invented themselves. Burt Hooten, who pitched for the Dodgers and Cubs in the 1970s, had his knuckles on the ball and thrust his fingers forward as he released it. Mike Mussina, who pitched for the Orioles and Yankees from 1990-2008, tried to throw a conventional knuckleball, with two fingertips on the ball, but found his pitches would dive if he instead thrust his fingers out and made the ball spin faster, instead of not at all. These knuckle curves were slow pitches. Jason Isringhausen has also thrown a version of a knuckle curve during his long MLB career.
Meyer's version, too, is his own and presents its own challenges.
"I've never met anybody who throws it the way I do," he said. "I really stick my fingernail into the seam. You have to have big enough fingers to be able to do it. Most guys have the finger up against the ball. With me, if my fingernail is not right that day, it's going to be really hard for me to throw it. I've learned to adapt so that the length of my fingernail is where I like to have it. I use a nail file during the season."
Meyer digs his fingernail into the seams and flicks the ball as he releases it with his three-quarters motion. But there's nothing slow about Meyer's knuckle curve, which is why some scouts think it is a slider. He throws it better than 85 mph and it has a late, violent swerve.
"It's a hard slurve," (New Britain Rock Cats manager Jeff) Smith said. "The hitters' reaction? Not good. Especially right-handed hitters. He gets a lot of swings and misses with it."
It might not be long before MLB hitters are swinging and missing at his knuckle curve. Before then, Meyer will make his first start against a club from his former organization. He will get the call against the Harrisburg Senators from the Nationals organization on Tuesday at 6:35 p.m. ET in New Britain, Conn.
Baseball - The No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats completed a season-long seven-game road trip with a four-game week, including an 18-inning game at Western Kentucky on Tuesday and a historic series win at No. 16 Ole Miss during the weekend. UK will break for finals during the week and return to action on Friday in hosting preseason top-ranked Arkansas, currently tabbed as high as No. 14, in a three-game series. - After an 11-5 loss on Friday, the Wildcats posted a comeback 5-4 win on Saturday to claim the series against the Rebels, behind Corey Littrell's 20th career win. It marked UK's third all-time series win in Oxford and its first since 2007, also winning in 2001. - The Wildcats have been led offensively in average by freshman right fielder Kyle Barrett, who has hit .347 with four doubles, one triple, 11 RBI and four steals in 2013. All-America two-way start A.J. Reed leads all NCAA sophomores in homers and RBI, batting .310 with eight doubles, two triples, 10 homers and 40 RBI.
Softball - The No. 19 Kentucky softball team posted two wins over the week, defeating No. 7 Louisville and No. 11 Missouri to increase its win total to 36. The week started with Kentucky taking down in-state foe and highly ranked Louisville 2-1 in a thrilling seven-inning battle. Junior Lauren Cumbess was the hero in the game with a walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning to win the game. Freshman Kelsey Nunley earned the win in the circle, throwing a complete game and allowing only one run. - Over the weekend, UK went 1-2 against Missouri, earning the win Saturday after a hard-fought nine-inning loss on Friday. Kentucky's win on Saturday against Missouri was its seventh over a ranked foe this season and 38th all-time under Lawson. The Wildcats started the year with a win over then-No. 3 Cal while it also has wins over then-No. 3 Florida, No. 7 Louisville, then-No. 16 Washington, then-No. 20 Stanford and then-No. 25 North Carolina. - Nunley earned the win Saturday in the circle, throwing a complete game and allowing two runs. For the week, Nunley was 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA, striking out 16 in 23.1 innings pitched. Offensively, senior Alice O'Brien and junior Ginny Carroll paced UK. O'Brien had a double and home run on the week, while Carroll had two doubles and two RBI.
Track and field - Michelle Canterna raised the UK pole vault record 3.96 meters / 12'11.75" en route to the Miami RedHawk Invitational on Saturday. - UK competitors also competed at the Penn Relays and Triton Invitational last weekend. - 2012 SEC Discus Champion Andrew Evans threw a collegiate-best 60.12M / 197'03" to place 9th in his signature event at the Triton Invitational. - The Kentucky women's team moved up 17 spots to No. 24 in last week's national rankings. - Kentucky appeared in the outdoor top-25 for the first time since checking in at No. 21 in the 2010 preseason poll. - A three-day total of 111,284 fans watched the Kentucky Wildcats compete at the 2013 Penn Relays.
Friday, May 3 Track and field at Billy Hayes Invitational - 3:00 p.m. (Bloomington, Ind.) Baseball hosts Arkansas - 6:30 p.m. Softball at Alabama - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 4 Softball at Alabama - 3:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Arkansas - 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 5 Baseball hosts Arkansas - 1:00 p.m. Softball at Alabama - 2:30 p.m.
UK freshman Sarah Harris helped the Wildcats achieve their best SEC Championships finish in 20 years with a second-place 9-over-par last weekend. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
On her final hole of the Southeastern Conference Championships, freshman Kentucky golfer Sarah Harris walked off the green in disgust.
She bogeyed. She was mad.
That was not the way she intended to end her round or the tournament for that matter. Harris also had no idea what that bogey had cost her team.
As Harris walked over to head coach Golda Borst with a look of disappointment, Borst had to alert her unsuspecting and somewhat oblivious freshman about what she had just done.
"Sarah, do you know you just did?" Borst asked.
"No," Harris responded, aware of nothing other than the fact she had just ended her round on a sour note.
"You might have had the highest (SEC Championships) finish out of any Kentucky women's golfer," Borst informed her unassuming freshman. "Do you know how big this?"
That quickly changed Harris' perspective on her tournament.
With her final score of 9-over-par, Harris had earned her best collegiate finish with a second place at the SEC Championships as she led the Kentucky women's golf team to its best finish at SECs in 20 years: a tie for fifth place with Mississippi State at 58-over par.
So why then did Harris have no idea where she was on the leaderboard? Well, it goes back to before Kentucky competed at Ole Miss and had its best showing of the spring with a fifth-place finish at the M&F Bank Rebel Intercollegiate.
The Wildcats struggling for much of the spring, fighting weather conditions back home,
having trouble translating the work they put in into tournament play and
frankly unable to get out of their own way.
The Wildcats faced a great deal of adversity. They learned from it. They are better for it.
"We had to go through those tough times in the fall and then the spring to figure out that we're stronger," said Borst. "We've gotten mentally tougher. I saw that this tournament. They did better with their toughness."
Before the Cats went to Ole Miss, they gathered around and decided something had to change. What they were doing wasn't up to their own standards. So each of them - without the influence of the coaching staff - decided that instead of playing for one another or playing for their coaches, family, friends, or any other outside distractions, that they would play for themselves.
"When we all sat down, we decided we were letting the outside things distract us," said Harris. "We all sat down and took it back to, 'I need to be playing for me.' I need to go out there and figure out what I need to do to play good golf. When I'm playing well, it contributes to the team. When we all do what we need to play well, it all adds up."
It's not selfish, but it's a fact. Golf wasn't designed to be a team sport, even though Kentucky might be one of the most tight-knit collegiate teams on the circuit. Kentucky actually might have been too close of a team and put too much pressure on itself to perform for one another.
So they separated, at least mentally, from that idea and started focusing on their individual selves and doing their own part, trusting that everyone would do the same and stay focused on the moment.
Harris on her final round, on her final hole, on her final shot, was focused on the moment. She didn't even know how to process what she had just accomplished.
That's also Harris' M.O. She's humble and modest. She doesn't expect things. She goes out with an open mind and plays with what the day gives her.
When Borst asked her freshman what her goal was for the SEC Championships, Harris simply hoped to place in the top half of the field. And then she finished second.
She simply didn't know how good she really was. She probably has a better idea of that now.
"I expected her to be a solid player for me this year. I really did," said Borst. "It's one of those where you knew she'd be in the lineup, but she didn't know because she doesn't know how good she is. I think she slowly but surely is realizing that."
Harris is quick to give credit to the turnaround of her season and the season as a whole to their four seniors who have done much of the grunt work while Harris and fellow freshman Cylia Damerau are simply expected to pick up where the seniors have left off. Where most seniors wouldn't necessarily be receptive to freshmen coming in and contributing immediately, this senior class has welcomed the youngsters with open arms.
Because of that, UK is peaking at just the right time as the Wildcats await word on where they will head for NCAA Regionals during the Division I NCAA Women's Golf Selection Show on Monday, April 29.
"The upperclassmen are such a wealth of information," said Harris. "Whenever we have questions or need help with something, they're always there to lend a hand. They're so encouraging and it's just great.
"I hear a lot of stories on other teams where they say, 'Our seniors, they hate us,' or 'They hope we don't play.' They are always cheering us on and it's really fun."
Each senior brings something different to the table. Ashleigh Albrecht has been the most consistent player over the last few years and brings great veteran leadership on the course along with Betsie Johnson, while Megan Moir and Heather Lott and lone junior Liz Breed bring gobs of perspective about being good teammates, where this program has been, and where they want them to take it next.
"Each of them has taught me different things, but I've really learned about just enjoying the game," said Harris. "Not necessarily always taking it so seriously, but just enjoying being out there. I've really just learned a lot from them on how to enjoy my time as a student-athlete. They've been so encouraging."
The seniors have also taught the freshman about how Kentucky golfers are to handle themselves while on the golf course, which coincides with the seniors' message to Harris to enjoy the game and have fun. Borst and assistant coach Lucy Nunn have preached to their players since they arrived three years ago that there team would always carry themselves with class and play with a good attitude.
That message not only helps to represent the university in a positive light, but it also actually improves performance. And others have noticed.
On the second day of play at the SEC Championships - a day that's been notoriously troublesome for the Cats over the course of the season - Albrecht had just flown the green on a par three with a tough up and down in her future. Without hesitation, Albrecht stuck her club in her bag, walked with purpose to her ball, and took care of business and parred the hole.
That prompted Mississippi State head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm to walk over to Nunn.
"Lucy, your girls have such a great attitude. What do you do with them?" asked Brown-Lemm.
"We really emphasize playing with a great attitude," Nunn answered.
"Lucy, that saves shots," Brown-Lemm said.
That emphatic message is finally paying dividends.
"That's something that we've preached all year, because if we're going to do anything, we're going to do it with a good attitude," said Borst. "I don't like to see anything else on the golf course. Overall, I'm very happy and pleased and it shows we're going in the right direction."
Now, it's the freshmen helping those seniors advance and reach new heights as UK earned its best finish since before Harris and Damerau were even born. That's what these players set out to do when they decided to come to Kentucky. Now, the pieces are coming together and the entire team is making sure that the Wildcats end the 2013 season on a high note to send off their seniors the right way.
"When I made my decision to come to Kentucky, that's one of the things that drew me here," said Harris. "I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of rebuilding a program. We have such a great program, but we want to get back to where we were.
"Just the pride (the seniors) have in the program and the confidence they have in us. When we go to a tournament, it's always, 'We are Kentucky women's golf. We're here to play well.' It's really cool to watch."
A few days removed from being taken by the Lions in the third round, Larry Warford seems to be the rare draft pick that avoids criticism. The former star Kentucky guard has been well-received by Detroit fans and media alike and the consensus seems to be that he fills a need and will quickly compete for a starting role.
In three seasons as the starting right guard for the Wildcats, he led the SEC interior blockers with an 88.47 percent grade for blocking consistency, and registered 36 touchdown-resulting blocks and 125 knockdowns.
Detroit released starting guard Stephen Peterman at the start of the offseason and Warford is expected to compete for that opening on the right side.
"I think he definitely competes for it," general manager Martin Mayhew said. "You know, he's got some stuff to learn. He's got to clean some things up. But I think he's got a chance to compete as a starter."
The Lions selected Riley Reiff with the 23rd overall pick in 2012, and he could start the season now at tackle if Warford is able to start.
"This is one of my favorite football players in the draft," NFL Network's Mike Mayock said. "You want to talk about a big, square, stout son of a gun. This is him. Every tape I put on, he was dominant."
Warford measures at 6-foot-3 and 332 pounds. He's made the All-SEC second team the past three seasons.
In related news, Warford was the only Wildcat chosen in this year's NFL Draft, but he won't be the UK player to get a chance to live out his dreams at the next level. Soon after the draft's conclusion on Saturday, Martavius Neloms (Lions), Matt Smith (Atlanta Falcons) and Collins Ukwu (Minnesota Vikings) each announced on their Twitter accounts that they signed as free agents. Congratulations to all four.
One final note on the 2013 NFL Draft: Florida State led all schools and set a school record with 11 players chosen this weekend. Of those 11, seven were coached by former defensive coordinator and current UK head coach Mark Stoops, who attended the draft on Thursday and saw two of his players - defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes - go in the first round.
Overall Record: 26-17, 9-12 SEC Record Last Week: 2-2, 2-1 SEC
Recent Results Tuesday, April 23 * lost at Western Kentucky, 5-4 (18 innings) Thursday, April 25 - won at No. 16 Ole Miss, 3-2 Friday, April 26 - lost at No. 16 Ole Miss, 11-5 Saturday, April 27 - won at No. 16 Ole Miss, 5-4
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Friday, May 3 - vs. No. 14 Arkansas - 6:30 p.m. (Fox Sports South) Saturday, May 4 - vs. No. 14 Arkansas - 7 p.m. (Fox Sports South) Sunday, May 5 - vs. No. 14 Arkansas - 1 p.m. (Cox Sports Television)
Team notes The No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats completed a season-long seven-game road trip with a four-game week, including an 18-inning game at Western Kentucky on Tuesday and a historic series win at No. 16 Ole Miss during the weekend. UK will break for finals during the week and return to action on Friday in hosting preseason top-ranked Arkansas, currently tabbed as high as No. 14, in a three-game series.
Kentucky (26-17, 9-12 Southeastern Conference) continued its grueling road swing with what turned into an exhausting week, starting with the 18-inning loss at Western Kentucky. In a nearly six-hour game that marked the longest contest played in the NCAA in 2013, the Wildcats fell 4-3 at Bowling Green Ballpark, before arriving back in Lexington at 4 a.m. ET and attending classes Wednesday.
Later Wednesday, UK then traveled to Oxford for the ESPN Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week, facing the blistering hot Rebels, who entered the series owning six consecutive league wins. UK took an early lead on the strength of a first-inning Austin Cousino honor in the nationally televised tilt against Rebs ace Bobby Wahl, an All-America righty who had a sub 1.00 ERA in SEC games entering the start. After allowing unearned runs to score to give Ole Miss a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning, UK mounted an eighth inning rally to take a 3-2 lead. With the UK bullpen taxed from the 18-inning game on Tuesday, UK turned to Chandler Shepherd to pitch extended innings in relief, tossing two shutout frames for the win.
After an 11-5 loss on Friday, the Wildcats posted a comeback 5-4 win on Saturday to claim the series against the Rebels, behind Corey Littrell's 20th career win. It marked UK's third all-time series win in Oxford and its first since 2007, also winning in 2001.
The Wildcats have been led offensively in average by freshman rightfielder Kyle Barrett, who has hit .347 with four doubles, one triple, 11 RBI and four steals in 2013. All-America two-way start A.J. Reed leads all NCAA sophomores in homers and RBI, batting .310 with eight doubles, two triples, 10 homers and 40 RBI. J.T. Riddle has hit .276 with seven doubles, one triple, one homer and 19 RBI, stealing six bases. All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino has batted .256 with 10 doubles, one triple, six homers and 25 RBI, stealing 12 bags. Max Kuhn owns a .253 average with eight doubles, one triple, three homers and 26 RBI, stealing six bags. Outfielder Zac Zellers has a .247 average with three doubles, two homers and 22 RBI, swiping six bases, while catcher Micheal Thomas has hit .245 with two homers and 18 RBI.
UK's pitching staff has used the all lefthanded weekend rotation of Reed (2-5, 2.88 ERA), Jerad Grundy (5-5, 5.27 ERA) and Littrell (5-3. 3.22 ERA). In relief, senior Walter Wijas (2-0, 0.78 ERA) has appeared in a staff-high 21 games, while junior Trevor Gott (4-1, 1.33 ERA) has 10 saves in 20 outings, fanning 32 in 27 innings. Sophomore Chandler Shepherd (3-0, 3.43 ERA) has appeared in 18 games with 42 innings pitched. Freshmen Ryne Combs (0-0, 1.40 ERA), Zach Strecker (1-1, 2.40 ERA), Dylan Dwyer (1-0, 4.38 ERA) and Kyle Cody (3-2, 5.49 ERA) have been used in at least 10 games in relief.
UK is currently in a stretch of facing 14 of 16 ranked opponents. Eight of UK's 10 weekends against SEC foes have come against ranked teams. Kentucky, currently owning a No. 27 NCAA RPI in the BoydsWorld.com projections on Sunday, has three series wins over top-20 NCAA RPI teams (at Florida, at Ole Miss, vs. Miss. State), and has four games against top-12 teams remaining in 2013.
UK freshman Kelsey Nunley stifled Missouri's bats on Saturday as the Wildcats evened the series with an 8-2 victory. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Different day, different pitcher and different result.
The 19th-ranked Kentucky softball team defeated No. 11 Missouri on Saturday, 8-2, to even the three-game series with the rubber match to be played on Sunday. The Wildcats fell to the Tigers in the opening game on Friday, 2-1, in a game they let get away and as two-time All-American pitcher Chelsea Thomas dominated.
Saturday was a different story as UK freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley was the one in the circle controlling the game. She gave up just one earned run in a complete-game effort, while striking out four UM hitters. The Soddy Daisy, Tenn., native did what she has been doing all season, working the corners and keeping hitters guessing at the plate.
Nunley lived on the inside corner, jamming several Missouri batters while painting the outside corner from time to time leaving the Tigers with little chance to connect the barrel of the bat with the ball. Location has been key for Nunley, who leads the Wildcats with a 22-7 record on the season. She lives and dies by painting the black of the plate and knows just where the zone is by figuring out the umpire early in the game.
"She's been doing that her whole life," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "The one thing she does exceptionally well is she has great command and she locates it well. Once she figures out an umpire's zone she's pretty good at attacking it and locating the ball where she wants to and that's really the name of her game is being able to locate and attack batters and giving the umpire what they want."
After Missouri tied the game in the top of the fourth at 1-all, the Tigers filled the bases with two outs in the inning. Nunley threw a pitch on the inside corner that UM's Rachel Hay could do nothing with but fly out to left to end the threat. That pitch looked to be the turning point in the game as Kentucky plated two runs in the bottom half of the inning to stretch its lead to 3-1, taking command the rest of the way.
Nunley hurled 120 pitches in the game and has now thrown over 200 pitches in less than 24 hours after tallying 91 in four innings on Friday. That's a lot of pitches for anyone but to ask out of a freshman is saying a lot. The right hander has been huge for UK all season and is a large reason for its success this year.
"She's a very strong girl and she's been exceptional for us, especially for a freshman to be able to throw as many pitches as she does a game and as many games as she has," Lawson said. "We have been really lucky this year but she has been able to step up and act like a real veteran."
The Cats' offense came alive on Saturday after recording just five hits and one run in nine innings against Thomas on Friday. Senior Alice O'Brien regained the lead for UK, connecting on a long homerun to right center in the bottom of the fourth inning. Junior Ginny Carroll and freshman Christian Stokes charted two RBI each as the Wildcats had nine hits and eight runs on Saturday.
UK is going to need that same offensive-minded attack on Sunday as they will most likely see Thomas in the opposing circle again on Sunday. Having already faced the two-time Big 12 Pitcher of the Year once, Lawson feels the Cats can make some adjustments the second time around.
"I think yesterday we made contact with some balls but we didn't hit them square and stay behind them," Lawson said. "We hit a lot of balls but they were just ground balls in the infield and we swung around a lot of pitches. We are going to have to do a better job hitting the higher dropball that she brings and second when she does bring it a little bit lower we have to do a better job of staying behind it and driving through it as opposed to moving it around and trying to run."
Sunday is meaningful because the winner of the game will take the series and have the tiebreaker when it comes to seeding for the SEC Tournament. However, Sunday also marks Senior Day for two Wildcats. Kara Dill and O'Brien have been key components for Kentucky over their four years.
Dill, who is a former all-league performer, broke her hand earlier in the year and has been limited. That hasn't stopped her from competing as she will enter the game as a pinch runner and is willing to help out the team in any way possible. O'Brien has had a great year at the plate for UK, hitting in the cleanup position for the majority of the season.
"Senior day is always a big day," Lawson said. "This year is a little bit different because it won't be our last game on this field for them. With that said, Kara and Alice have meant so much to the program. They have been starters for four years, they're awesome contributors on offense but more importantly they are great people. They are great students, they do exceptionally well in the classroom, they do well in the community and they have been an asset to Kentucky."
The Detroit Lions selected former Wildcat Larry Warford with the No. 65 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Expecting to hear his name called between the second and fourth rounds of the NFL Draft, Larry Warford was planning to forgo the watch parties potential draftees typically attend.
Nervous and excited to learn of his new team and home, Warford simply wanted to pass the time the best way he knew how.
"My dad wants me to come down and have a party with the family and all that but I kind of don't want to do anything for it," Warford said on Tuesday. "I kind of just want to sit at my house and play video games."
For this, Larry Warford was happy to put down the controller.
The Detroit Lions selected Warford in the third round (No. 65 overall), making the star offensive guard the highest-picked Kentucky player since Randall Cobb in 2011 and second-highest in a decade. Warford is the first UK offensive lineman to be chosen in the draft since both Todd Perry and Chuck Bradley were selected in 1993.
If the Lions are right about him, Warford will be playing for a long time.
"Warford was made to play guard in the NFL," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said in a press conference after Detroit selected Warford.
Warford is expected to compete for a starting spot immediately on a team that ranked 23rd in the league in total rushing yards in 2012. According to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, Warford is more than capable of winning the job.
"This is one of my favorite football players in the draft, Larry Warford from Kentucky," Mayock said. "And you want to talk about a big, square, stout son of a gun, this is him.
"Every tape I put on he was dominant."
Making that all the more impressive in the competition Warford was facing on a weekly basis. He credited going head-to-head with the Southeastern Conference's top defensive tackles for preparing him for the next level and his performance against them caught the eye of ESPN's Todd McShay.
"This guy has faced some big-time defensive linemen and he won the vast majority of his one-on-one battles," McShay said. "He is a phone-booth player. He's gonna get into the pads of defensive linemen and once he's locked on, forget about it."
Warford did not allow a sack during his senior season en route to receiving All-SEC honors for the third year in a row. All his accolades - which include a third-team AP All-America nod - make him one of the most decorated linemen in school history.
At the next level, he only figures to build on his Wildcat legacy.
"I just want to represent my university," Warford said. "It's a great place I've had so much fun and I have gotten a lot out of it and to represent UK in the draft it means everything to me. This is something that I really have been wanting to do and take a lot of pride in."
Long wait well worth it Crazy excited about my new family!!! LIONS!!!!!!!
Larry Warford is projected to become the first UK offensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft since 1993. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Typically, NFL teams wait until later in the draft to go after offensive guards. As Larry Warford said earlier this week, tackle has always been the "glamor" position on the offensive line.
This year, however, is different.
Thanks to one of the strongest classes at the position in recent history, four guards were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft of Thursday night. And as a result, Warford is the top guard prospect left on most draft boards.
1. Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky There are very few sure-things in any NFL Draft much less after the first 32 picks. Warford is a plug-and-play stud at guard who isn't far behind both first-round studs Chance Warmack (TEN) and Jonathan Cooper (ARI). He was widely considered by opposing coaches as clearly the best player on a team with little to no support. And he still produced at an All-SEC level despite the struggle of his team. He is productive, powerful, game-ready and a steal in Round 2.
The draft will resume at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday (ESPN and NFL Network) and Warford could have his video-game playing interrupted early in the evening.
UK celebrates after its walk-off victory over Louisville on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky and Missouri's first softball matchup as conference mates is set to be a big one.
With just one Southeastern Conference series left after the Tigers come to town, the Wildcats will look to strengthen their position for the postseason against a quality opponent. If the regular-season ended today, the Wildcats (35-14, 10-8 SEC) would be the No. 7 seed in the SEC Tournament, while Missouri (27-8, 11-6 SEC) would be the five seed.
It's obvious on paper how much this means for the winner of this series, and with a trip to No. 4 Alabama up next for the Cats, there is an opportunity for UK to climb in the SEC standings by finishing the season out strong.
"Right now everybody is bottle-necked basically three through 10 so we want to have a good seed for the SEC Tournament," head coach Rachel Lawson said. "Well first you have to make it and second you want to have a good seed. If we can do something pretty cool against Missouri that would really help our standing and move up."
This is obviously a big weekend for UK and with Missouri ranked 11th in the country, it magnifies the matchup. However, even though wins and losses will likely determine Kentucky's seeding in the postseason, junior Lauren Cumbess knows the right way to approach the series.
"It's nothing different than any other SEC team we have played because they are ranked," Cumbess said. "Our conference is really tough but it's fun so when you do come away with a win it's huge for our team and gets us ready for postseason."
Kentucky will be riding a momentum swing after a walk-off 2-1 victory over rival Louisville on Wednesday at John Cropp Stadium. The win was a team effort as UK had great performances offensively and defensively as well as a gem from freshman hurler Kelsey Nunley.
Louisville defeated UK three times last season, including 3-2 in the regionals to end the Wildcats' 2012 season. This year, the Cardinals won the first meeting between the schools by knocking off the Cats 5-1 in Louisville.
U of L has had UK's number over the last few matchups but the Wildcats were finally able to get over the hump on Wednesday to pick up a momentum-building win heading into the final weekends of the season.
"It's very exciting because last year we didn't beat them and they beat us this year the first time we played them, so we were really looking forward to this game," Cumbess said. "To finally get a win over Louisville, that's huge for us. We evened it up for the year, until postseason anyway."
With just six games left in the season the Wildcats are approaching postseason play where they will need to take their game to the next level to compete with the best teams in the country. Cumbess believes the team is peaking at the right time and is playing their best ball of the year.
"I feel like our team is coming together and finding that chemistry and we are moving up and almost at our peak to play our best," Cumbess said.
Missouri is one of the top teams in the country and features two-time First-Team All-American and Big 12 Pitcher of the Year in Chelsea Thomas. Thomas is a pitcher that relies heavily on the dropball and that's exactly what UK saw when facing Louisville hurler Rachel LeCoq.
The Tigers are no strangers to big games as they appeared in the 2012 Super Regionals before falling to LSU in three games. The Cats are hoping the emotional win over Louisville will motivate them and boost their confidence the rest of the way.
"I hope it's going to carry on big," Lawson said. "Missouri is an awesome team, they have an incredible pitcher and they hit the ball well. The confidence and knowledge that we gain from (Louisville) is great and plus she is a drop ball pitcher in Chelsea Thomas and while she has a lot of other pitches the drop is a huge pitch for her. To be able to work on that against Louisville a little bit is good coming into this weekend."