UK scored three runs in the ninth inning to defeat Arkansas on Saturday in the second game of a doubleheader, 4-3. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When a reporter referred to the first 17 innings of a Saturday doubleheader as "disappointing" for the Kentucky baseball team, head coach Gary Henderson disagreed.
He thought "disgusting" was more appropriate.
Arkansas - boasting the nation's top earned-run average entering the series - had handcuffed the Wildcats for 51 outs. UK hitters managed 11 hits in dropping game one, 5-3, and trailing game two 3-1 heading to the ninth inning.
In an instant, it all changed.
"That's four balls hit hard in the bottom of the ninth and I'm not sure we had four balls hit hard the first eight innings, or the first 17 innings," Henderson said.
Those four hard-hit balls led to four singles, and Kentucky (27-19, 10-14 Southeastern Conference) used those hits to score three runs in the bottom of the ninth to salvage the final game of a three-game set against the No. 14 Razorbacks (32-16, 15-8 SEC).
"To have those guys dial in and be as competitive as they were in the ninth inning, I was really glad to see that and hopefully that helps us moving forward," Henderson said.
Designated hitter Greg Fettes got it all started, leading off the ninth against an Arkansas bullpen that had allowed just one hit and no runs in 6.1 innings of Saturday work up to that point. J.T. Riddle followed with another single, creating an opportunity for Max Kuhn to lay down a bunt and put the potential tying run in scoring position. Kuhn, however, couldn't get it down, popping up the first pitch of his at-bat to the pitcher.
"We could have rolled over after we popped up a bunt, but we didn't," Henderson said. "We came back and obviously we got a little bit of help, but after that we took care of it ourselves."
The help to which Henderson is referring came two batters later. After Micheal Thomas flew out to center for the second out, Matt Reida grounded to second base. Particularly considering the Razorbacks hadn't made a single error in the series to that point, the Cats seemed on the verge of being swept as the ball bounded toward Jordan Farris. Instead, he misplayed it, allowing a run to score and cutting the Arkansas lead to 3-2.
The error, however, would have been rendered little more than an afterthought had the next two batters not delivered.
Lead-off hitter Kyle Barrett watched the play unfold from the on-deck circle, but was concerned Arkansas would bring in a left-hander to face him once Reida reached. Instead, Landon Simpson remained on the mound with runners on first and third.
"When they kept the righty in, I knew I was going to tie the game," Barrett said. "I had no doubt in my mind."
That type of confidence is uncharacteristic for a true freshman, and Barrett delivered on it. Sure a fastball was coming on the first pitch of his at-bat, Barrett swung away and singled up the middle to make it 3-3, setting up Zac Zellers with runners on first and second. In his mind, it was a no-pressure situation.
"I was pretty loose," Zellers said. "We were able to come back and tie the game, so it wasn't really a do-or-die situation."
On a 1-2 count, Zellers got the pitch up the zone he was looking for, stroking it into center and scoring Reida from second.
"I think it was really important, especially the win that we had," Zellers said. "Being able to come back, I think that's good for us. It's not the first time we've done it and it's probably not going to be the last."
The frenzied ninth inning and the celebration that followed might be the memories that stick from Saturday's second game, but they would not have happened had it not been for an impressive outing by the UK pitching staff.
Freshman Kyle Cody was set to make his first career SEC start on Saturday, but when it became a doubleheader and Corey Littrell started and lost game one, Cody was all of a sudden pitching to avoid a sweep. Very quickly, things went bad.
In a bit of first/ninth inning symmetry, the game started with an error on a grounder from second. From there, Arkansas would plate three runs on four hits and another fielding error by the Cats in the first, but Cody settled in. He worked around constant trouble over his final six innings, allowing no more damage and keeping his team within striking distance.
"It didn't go his way in the first," Henderson said. "A lot of ground balls got through and then obviously we kicked two in the top of the first, which was really disappointing and put him in a bad spot. And his rhythm was not great until probably the fourth inning."
Cody - filling in for struggling Saturday starter Jerad Grundy - has grown up quickly in his first season, so quickly in fact that he doesn't believe he could have pulled off this outing just a couple months ago.
"I didn't have the experience," Cody said. "It's good to get this under my belt for later years and I feel good where I'm at right now."
Walter Wijas, Ryne Combs and Chandler Shepherd kept it going after Cody departed, tossing two perfect innings. On the weekend, the UK bullpen worked 4.2 innings without allowing a run.
"That bullpen let us win a game 4-3," Henderson said. "Kyle Cody let us win a game 4-3."
As much of a relief as the victory may have been, it doesn't change the fact that UK has much to work on with two weeks left in the regular season.
"Obviously we've got some work to do offensively," Henderson said. "You can't deny that. We've got some things that we've got to get it figured out and we've got some kids that we need to have a much, much more competitive approach out of at the plate. Much more toughness is needed if we're going to get this thing turned around and finished strong."
Though not a cure-all, the win does make listening to Henderson's message and putting it into practice a little easier.
"We've been working on it all year," Zellers said. "It's just a matter of time before it clicks. Some guys are getting it, some aren't and we just haven't clicked at the same time. But once we do, we'll be a force."
Coming off a series win at Ole Miss, UK will host No. 14 Arkansas for a three-game series beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Last week was an eventful one for the Kentucky baseball team.
It began with an 18-inning marathon at Western Kentucky, where the Wildcats dropped a 2-1 decision on a walk-off home run. About 40 hours later, UK was in Oxford, Miss., for the first pitch of a three-game series against No. 16 Ole Miss with a break only to attend class back in Lexington on a couple hours sleep.
"Those are good memories," head coach Gary Henderson said with a wry smile.
Better memories awaited the Cats over the weekend.
On the heels of seven straight losses and 10 in 12 games, UK took two of three from the Rebels for only the third series victory at Ole Miss in school history.
After an exhausting but potentially crucial week, the Cats were due for a respite. Life in the Southeastern Conference, however, yields no such thing.
"It doesn't stop," Henderson said. "It's the same every year. You face really good players, really good pitching. It's just the nature of the deal. And you gotta play well. You can beat anybody, you can get beat by anybody and I think any coach in the league would tell you that."
Next up for No. 24 Kentucky is a three-game home set with No. 14 Arkansas. The Razorbacks were ranked No. 1 in the preseason and boast an impressive 1.78 staff earned-run average.
"They're very deep, they can match you up, they've got good starting pitching," Henderson said. "It'll be another one of those weekends you would anticipate - no crystal ball - but you would anticipate another weekend of close games: 3-2, 5-4, 2-1, those types of games. We've played plenty of them, but that's exactly what I would think that we're looking at."
On the season, UK has a 9-3 record in one-run decisions after adding to its SEC-leading total with two of them last weekend. That series victory led to inevitable questions about whether the Cats had saved their season. Henderson was hesitant to say that, mostly because of how much work he knows lies ahead.
"I think anytime you have a disappointing weekend, the next one's important," Henderson said. "And I've felt that way for a long time. It seems like you sit here and do the interviews and every weekend is the most important weekend of the year."
That's true again with the Razorbacks coming to town, though the Cats will likely be so happy to just being playing baseball again for nerves to have much of an effect. After returning to Lexington on Saturday, Henderson gave his players Sunday and Monday off to focus on final exams.
And for the first time this season, UK had no scheduled midweek game to help pass the time. Instead, Henderson pondered what to do with his weekend rotation.
Coming off a strong junior season and a hot start to 2013, Saturday starter Jerad Grundy has hit a rough patch in recent weeks.
"He's missing up in the strike zone," Henderson said. "There's no mystery. It's up, it's flat, he's doing it in very, very inopportune times. He's healthy, it's not a work ethic issue. He's a great kid. He throws good pitches, but he's not throwing near as many good pitches consistently as he was the first eight weekends."
Looking both to help Grundy get back on track and give his team the best chance to win in the short term, Henderson has tabbed freshman Kyle Cody (3-2, 5.49 ERA) to make his first-career weekend start and interrupt a 76-game streak of weekend games started by left-handers.
Grundy's struggles might not be ideal, but Henderson is thankful to be addressing them after a couple big wins. Confidence is maybe the first word that comes to mind when describing this Kentucky team, but even this bunch of Cats couldn't help but let a little self-doubt creep in after what they had been through. That's over now.
"Anytime you have a good weekend, it creates confidence and it gets you back to being optimistic about what you're doing," Henderson said. "We're always optimistic, but certainly the kids feel good after the win and glad to be home for a couple weekends."
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.
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.
Baseball - Kentucky continued a grueling stretch with 14-of-16 ranked opponents with a four-game week, with No. 8 Louisville earning a midweek win and No. 14 South Carolina sweeping the Wildcats in Columbia over the weekend. - Sophomore two-way standout A.J. Reed smashed his team-high 10th homer of the year on Saturday, as a part of a 4-12 weekend at the plate. - Junior lefty Corey Litrell tossed his seventh quality start of the year and 21st of his illustrious career on Sunday, allowing three earned runs in 7.2 innings. - Freshman catcher George Fettes belted his first homer of his career on Saturday afternoon over the left-field wall that helped UK rally to take the lead before falling to the Gamecocks.
Softball - The Kentucky softball team is coming off a 3-2 week where it swept a doubleheader at Middle Tennessee State before earning a win at Arkansas in a three-game set. UK defeated MTSU 7-4 in game one before a 13-1 triumph in game two. - Home runs led UK in game two over MTSU as the Wildcats blasted five home runs to break the school record for most homers in a game. Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner started the home run assault, blasting a leadoff shot in the second inning before junior infielder Krystal Smith hit a two-run homer later that inning. Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess hit a two-run home run in the third inning before freshman infielder Ansley Smith hit consecutive two-run round trippers in the third and fourth innings to tie and break the school record. In all, the Wildcats posted 15 hits in the game, including three doubles and 12 RBI. - Cumbess has been the offensive leader for UK, hitting safely in 13 of her last 14 games with an extra-base hit in nine of those 14 games. For the season, Cumbess leads the team with a .359 (56-for-156) average, including 12 doubles, 11 homers and 37 RBI. Freshman Kelsey Nunley is 20-6 on the year in the circle with a 2.08 ERA. Cumbess is second on the team with a 3.52 ERA and a 10-5 record.
Men's tennis - Kentucky advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2013 SEC Tournament, knocking off No. 9 Mississippi State in the second round, 4-2. - The Wildcats bowed out in the quarterfinals after dropping a tight match with number one overall seed, and No. 2 Georgia, 4-3. Anthony Rossi defeated No. 6 KU Singh 7-6, 6-3 in his second win of the year over a top-10 player. - The NCAA Selection Show is Tuesday, April 30 at 5:00 p.m. ET on NCAAsports.com. Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team lost 4-2 in its opening round match vs. LSU at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. - Junior Caitlin McGraw and freshman Nadia Ravita won the No. 1 doubles match 8-0. - Ranked 22nd, Ravita recorded another singles win, defeating Kaitlin Burns 7-5, 6-3 in the No. 1 singles slot. - McGraw also recorded a singles win for UK, taking court four 7-5, 7-6 (3).
Women's golf - The women's golf team recorded its best finish at the SEC Championships in 20 years as it placed tied for fifth, shooting 58-over-par for the tournament at the Greystone Golf and Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. - Freshman Sarah Harris was the highlight of the tournament for the Wildcats, finishing a career-best second place at 9-over-par for the event. Harris, who was tied for the individual lead after day one, was tied for fifth coming into Sunday before a 4-over-par, 76 catapulted her into second overall. The second place individual finish was also the highest this season for Kentucky. - Junior Liz Breed, who was nearly as impressive as Harris over the weekend, recorded a career-high finish tying for sixth overall at 11-over-par. The Waynesboro, Pa., native came into Sunday tied for fifth before falling just one slot after a 6-over-par, 78 final round.
Men's golf - The UK men's golf team finished in 13th place at the SEC Championships last weekend, shooting 50-over-par for the tournament at the Seaside Course in St. Simmons Island, Ga. - Junior Ben Stow was the high finisher for the Wildcats, placing tied for 12th at 5-over-par. The Salisbury, England native was even par through the first round before posting 2-over in round two and 3-over in the final 18.
Track and field - Kentucky opened the new UK Outdoor Track and Field Facility with the inaugural collegiate Heart of the Bluegrass Classic on Saturday. - UK won all but one of the 29 events the team entered at the inaugural collegiate Heart of the Bluegrass Classic on Saturday. - Cally Macumber and Michelle Canterna set the school records in their respective events. - Macumber's mile time of 4:37.75 also set the facility record. - Canterna cleared the new outdoor school record vault height at 3.87 meter /12'08.25". - Keith Hayes won all four of the events he entered, including two relays. - Rebecca Famurewa won three throws events, including a PR in the hammer throw.
Tuesday, April 23 Baseball at Western Kentucky - 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 24 Softball hosts Louisville - 6:00 p.m.
Thursday, April 25 Track and field at Penn Relays - 10:00 a.m. (Philadelphia, Pa.) Baseball at Ole Miss - 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 26 Track and field at Penn Relays - 9:00 a.m. (Philadelphia, Pa.) Track and field at Triton Invitational - 1:00 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.) Softball hosts Missouri - 5:00 p.m. Baseball at Ole Miss - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 27 Track and field at Penn Relays - 12:55 p.m. (Philadelphia, Pa.) Track and field at Triton Invitational - 1:00 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.) Softball hosts Missouri- 1:00 p.m. Baseball at Ole Miss - 3:15 p.m. Track and field at Miami University RedHawk Invitational (Miami, Ohio)
Sunday, April 28 Softball hosts Missouri - 1:00 p.m. Track and field at Payton Jordan Invitational - 4:00 p.m. (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Overall Record: 24-15, 7-11 SEC Record Last Week: 0-4, 0-3 SEC
Recent Results Tuesday, April 16, lost vs. No. 8 Louisville, 5-12 Saturday, April 20, lost at No. 14 South Carolina, 2-5 Saturday, April 20, lost at No. 14 South Carolina, 6-7 (11 innings) Sunday, April 21, lost at No. 14 South Carolina, 1-3
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, April 23 - at Western Kentucky - 7 p.m. Thursday, April 25 - at No. 17 Ole Miss - 7:30 p.m. [ESPNU] Friday, April 26 - at No. 17 Ole Miss - 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27 - at No. 17 Ole Miss - 3:15 p.m. [Fox Sports]
Team notes Kentucky continued a grueling stretch with 14-of-16 ranked opponents with a four-game week, with No. 8 Louisville earning a midweek win and No. 14 South Carolina sweeping the Wildcats in Columbia over the weekend. Kentucky will return to action on Tuesday, traveling to Bowling Green, Ky., to face Western Kentucky at 7 p.m. ET at Bowling Green Ballpark. UK will then venture to No. 17 Ole Miss to face off with the Rebels, starting on Thursday in Oxford.
Kentucky (24-15, 7-11 Southeastern Conference) will face the Hilltoppers in a rematch of a 6-3 WKU win in Lexington on April 2. The game will be played at the low class A stadium of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Bowling Green Ballpark. The series with Ole Miss will begin on Thursday as the ESPNU SEC Game of the Week, with a 7:30 p.m. ET first pitch. The series will resume on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET and conclude at 3:15 p.m. ET on Saturday.
UK has been led offensively by freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett, who has a .352 average with 10 RBI. Slugger A.J. Reed has a .318 mark with six doubles, two triples, 10 homers and 44 RBI, with J.T. Riddle batting .301 with seven doubles, one triple, one homer and 11 RBI. All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino has hit .268 with nine doubles, one triple, four homers and 22 RBI, stealing a club-best 12 bases.
On the mound, UK's Corey Littrell (4-3, 3.20 ERA), Reed (2-5, 3.20 ERA) and Jerad Grundy (5-4, 4.43 ERA) have worked in 10 weekend starts. In relief, senior Walter Wijas (2-0, 0.83 ERA) has appeared in a team-best 20 games, working 21.2 innings, striking out 20 and walking just four. Junior Trevor Gott (4-1, 1.19 ERA) has nine saves in 18 outings, striking out 26 in 22.2 frames. Freshmen Zach Strecker (1-0, 0.84 ERA), Ryne Combs (0-0, 1.50 ERA), Dylan Dwyer (1-0, 4.76 ERA) and Kyle Cody (3-2, 6.21 ERA) have each appeared in at least 10 games, with sophomore Chandler Shepherd (2-0, 3.82 ERA) appearing in 16 games.
UK baseball visited Fort Jackson on Friday before its series with South Carolina this weekend.
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Usually on the day of night games in the Southeastern Conference, visiting teams spend the day wasting time at the hotel, eating pregame meals and preparing for the daunting challenge of winning a league series opener on the road.
Not so on Friday for the 17th-ranked Kentucky baseball team, which faces off with No. 14 South Carolina at Carolina Stadium this weekend.
The Wildcats had a different Friday, spending the morning at Fort Jackson, the United States Army's main production center for Basic Combat Training under the command of Brigadier General Bryan T. Roberts.
UK's club was invited to visit Fort Jackson during the week leading up to the trip to Columbia. UK jumped at the chance to break from its routine and show its student-athletes the training ground for America's heroes.
UK head coach Gary Henderson, assistant coach Keith Vorhoff, support staff and a dozen Wildcats boarded the bus and ventured down the road to Fort Jackson.
"This was a tremendous opportunity to get some of our group out to see a special place at Fort Jackson," Henderson said. "The men and women that serve in our armed forces are heroes and we were honored to have been welcomed on a visit. The chance to see what our soldiers go through on a daily basis to prepare them to fight for our freedom is an eye-opening experience. We can't thank General Roberts, Captain Meyer and the soldiers who were able to visit with us enough; they make us all proud to live in this great nation."
After a chance to meet with General Roberts, the Wildcats were given a personal tour of the recently renovated Fort Jackson museum where they were given a glimpse into the fort's history dating back to its inception in 1917.
Among the Wildcats on the trip was redshirt junior catcher Micheal Thomas. The Elizabethtown, Ky., native is a child of the military just 20 minutes from historic Fort Knox.
"It is cool to see what the men and women who serve our country have to go through to get ready to go to Afghanistan and other places for war," Thomas said. "It was an eye-opening experience for me and the guys, to see what guys our age actually have to go through."
Thomas, who has been a fixture behind the plate in 2013 after spending the previous four years behind standout catchers Marcus Nidiffer, Luke Maile and Michael Williams, was touched by the personal invite to the historic military base.
"It is really cool. Most of my family has been in the army," Thomas said. "Both of my parents were in the Navy so it was a little different for me. I got to see some of the other aspects of what my family has gone through from generation to generation. Being one of the first in my family to not join the military right out of high school was kind of cool to see what they went through, how they lived their lives and what has led them to be the kind of people they are today."
After the tour of the sparkling new museum, the Wildcats ventured across the base to an indoor shooting range, equipped with electronic sensors and screens to replicate battle scenarios. Henderson and the Wildcats were instructed on loading and re-loading their high powered, automatic weapons, before beginning the training scenarios.
"This was a great opportunity to come out and see just how the army life is," UK senior right-hander Walter Wijas said. "I had never had this experience, I had never shot a gun before and it was just a great experience to learn how it is and see how difficult it is for our soldiers to live here and fight for our country."
The Wildcats went through several battle simulations scenarios on the range, while lying in the prone and kneeling positions. The players had to think on their feet in a battle simulation, deciding on the fly about potential threats and civilians.
After the visit to historic Fort Jackson, the Wildcats returned to Columbia with a new perspective thanks to an experience much more meaningful than an afternoon spent in a hotel room.
"To see this just makes me respect our soldiers even more then I already do," Wijas said. "To see what they go through on a daily basis, it makes me feel for the work to do, it really makes us feel grateful that we have the life we do. The chance to play baseball everyday has been given to us by the brave soldiers in our military."
UK head coach Gary Henderson and the Wildcats look to take the season series with a win over Louisville on Tuesday (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
When No. 17 Kentucky and No. 8 Louisville tangle for the second time this season on the diamond, UK head coach Gary Henderson would like to see his team take the field with a little more purpose and focus - and perhaps a little more confidence - in the Wildcats second and final meeting with the Cardinals this season.
The Wildcats, who are coming off of a disappointing weekend that saw them drop two of three at home to Tennessee, are looking to get back on track with a win over one of their biggest rivals. Heading into yet another difficult Southeastern Conference road series with South Carolina, it's going to be important to head into Columbia, S.C., with a good taste in their mouth.
"Just like every time you lose a weekend series, it's important to come back and get the mid-week game. You can't deny that," said Henderson. "To play well, that's important. To get a 'W' is important. Get your confidence back at the plate; clearly we're going to need to do that."
The Kentucky offense over the last two weeks has been lackluster. Save a nine-run performance in the second game of the Tennessee series when UK scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Kentucky bats have rung hollow.
After scoring just six total runs at LSU including a pair of one-run outputs, the Wildcats are averaging just 3.7 runs per game. The pitching hasn't been up to UK standards either, as the Cats are allowing 7.8 runs per contest over that same seven-game span.
Kentucky is looking for both its bats and the arms to get right.
Life in the SEC can be rough, and it usually is for everyone for at least a few weeks at some point in the season. Right now, it's Kentucky's turn, like it or not.
"We've got a good club, but we haven't played very well for two weeks now," said Henderson. "That's the truth. The things that I think about are, we can get back to doing the things that we did.
"It's our turn now, unfortunately. We'd like for it not to be, but it is. You own up to it."
So Henderson brought in his three weekend starters on Monday morning and took a look back at the video from the series and talk about their approach. A.J. Reed had the most success of any of the three, allowing just two runs over 6.2 innings, and the Wildcats went on to win that night. Reed got stuck with the no-decision.
Henderson wants to make sure that his starters aren't trying to pitch a perfect game every time they take the hill and get ahead of themselves in the process. Instead, he wants his staffers to slow down and make the best pitch they can throughout the course of the ballgame.
Rather than trying to pitch a perfect inning and being upset with a hit, walk or run scored, Henderson wants his guys to manage the inning and keep damage to a minimum while keeping any frustrations on the backburner.
"You start with making sure those starting pitchers understand what they need to do in terms of just be who they are and do a good job of playing the game of a pitch at a time and don't try to do more than they should do," Henderson said. "We don't need anything more than what you can do and do a pitch at a time."
It's easier said than done, however. What Henderson does have going for him is that his team has been able to do already at points in the season. For the first seven weeks, his team was picking up the clutch hits in big situations. His pitchers were making great pitches and wriggling out of jams.
It's all just a matter of getting back to that and Henderson believes he knows what that's going to take.
"I'm just a huge believer in doing the basics and doing them well, and if you do that, you've got a chance to get back on track," Henderson said.
The key to getting back on track will be confidence. After LSU rattled UK's cage a bit, the confidence has seem to be a little bit shaken. Hitters are thinking too much at the plate. They are taking more third strikes now than at any point earlier in the season. They just aren't themselves.
"I think the indecisiveness, the lack of plan, the lack of clarity, those are the things that show a little bit of the stress, pressure and distraction," said Henderson.
"The indecision leads to chase, expanding the strike zone when you don't need to. I think it also leads to those called thirds. We didn't have a lot of those early on. All of a sudden those are popping up."
The uncharacteristic traits UK has exhibited over the last two weeks were fairly familiar to Henderson, though they weren't necessarily attributed to his own team. Actually, Henderson thought that his squad resembled another SEC team, one that UK took two of three from in March in Lexington.
"I thought John's (Cohen) team when they were here looked a lot like us this weekend. All of a sudden three weekends later they turn it around," said Henderson. "I knew John would get his guys going, he's got a good team.
"I really felt like when we got done this weekend we were Mississippi State three weeks ago."
Mississippi State is coming off a big three-game sweep on the road over Texas A&M after a slower-than-expected start to the season. The Bulldogs bounced back, so why not Kentucky? Henderson knows his team will.
There won't be a better way to do it than by getting back on right track with another win against the Cardinals on Tuesday. The Wildcats took the first meeting of the season in Louisville in an exhilarating 5-4, 10-inning win just two weeks ago.
An additional bump in attendance for Tuesday night's tilt may give the Wildcats an extra jolt in confidence when UK football head coach Mark Stoops throws out the first pitch. Additionally, fans that pack Cliff Hagan Stadium early can enjoy a cheap dinner with $1 hotdogs and drinks until 5:30. UK students can purchase $1 hot dogs and drinks the entire evening with a student ID.
With marketing efforts ramped up and the always-heated in-state rivalry in full motion, it's clear that there is plenty at stake. Though it's a non-conference matchup, this one, all things considered, is just as important.
"It's an important game. We want to win," said Henderson. "It's an in-state rival. We've never played a Tuesday or Wednesday game here where I didn't think it was important to win."
"It's a win against a good team if you can do it. It helps you in the postseason. It helps you in the RPI. Beyond that, it's another game against a good team."