Cats, Cards Renew 'Baseball State' Rivalry on Wednesday

When fans think of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and its college sports teams, basketball is obviously the first game that comes to mind. But fans paying close attention might argue that the Commonwealth has most recently become a “baseball state."

Evidence of that argument can be seen on Wednesday night in Lexington when the sixth-ranked Louisville Cardinals visit Cliff Hagan Stadium to battle No. 9 Kentucky.

That’s right, both of Kentucky’s Power Five baseball teams are ranked in the Top 10 nationally, and both are playing very well as the calendar turns to April.

Kentucky won two of its three games against Alabama last weekend, giving the Cats a 22-9 overall record, including an 8-4 mark in SEC play. Head coach Gary Henderson and his team saw their four-game winning streak snapped in a 2-1 loss to the Crimson Tide on Sunday. However, Kentucky has had only one season in which it got off to a better start in SEC play, and that came when the Wildcats were 9-3 after 12 games in 2012. Kentucky also posted 8-4 marks in 1988 and 1992.

“Any time you win two out of three, especially on the road, you feel good about it,” Henderson said. “There’s a lot of baseball to go, but we certainly feel good about the first four weekends.”

And while SEC games are obviously very important to Henderson and the Wildcats, he also knows that there is a lot of value in meeting a team like Louisville mid-week.

“I think any time you’re playing good people it’s a good measure of yourself and where you are,” Henderson said. “It will be a really good challenge for us. You want to beat the people from in state, you want to beat good people, you want to win games at home, all of it.”

Louisville lost two of three games to Florida State in an ACC series over the weekend. The Cardinals have won seven of their last nine games and are 24-7 overall on the season (Louisville faces Western Kentucky on Tuesday night). Louisville is one of the top offensive teams in the country, hitting .327 as a team (fourth nationally) and the Cardinals are 10th nationally in runs scored.

“Louisville does a really good job of pitching and they do a really good job of hitting,” Henderson said of his intrastate rivals. “They also play defense at a high level and they run the bases really well. They’ve got a really nice group.”

The Cardinals have had quite a bit of success under head coach Dan McDonnell, including three appearances in the College World Series. However, Kentucky leads the all-time series with U of L 69-39-1. Since 2006, the Cats and the Cards have been evenly matched in the series, with Kentucky winning 11 games to Louisville’s 10.

Henderson has seen both Louisville and Kentucky have success on the diamond, but he’s also seen an evolution of college baseball during his time in Lexington. He likes where the game is at this juncture.

“Over the 13 years that we’ve been here, baseball, especially collegiately, has really been elevated,” he said. “We now have a series in-state that’s great for the fans. You’ve got two nationally-ranked teams, a lot of good players, it’s a great thing for baseball in our state.”

Both teams have postseason aspirations and adding a win over a highly-ranked opponent can only help the winning team’s resume. And the competition between these two rivals can only continue to enhance the sport of baseball in the Commonwealth.

Wednesday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Cliff. The game will also be broadcast on SEC Network+.