No. 19 Baseball Opens 105th Season in Myrtle Beach Friday
Feb. 18, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After posting a school-record 122 wins the last three seasons, the No. 19 Kentucky baseball team opens its 105th season with the Caravelle Resort Invitational in Myrtle Beach, S.C., hosted by No. 22 Coastal Carolina.
Kentucky opens with the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt, Troy, Friday at 2 p.m. ET, before facing James Madison Saturday at Noon and Coastal Carolina at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, the Wildcats wrap up with the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at Noon. All games will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with Dick Gabriel on the call. Fans in Lexington can catch the action on WGVN 1580-AM.
The Wildcats are under the direction of first-year head coach Gary Henderson, in his sixth year with the program after spending the previous five seasons as the pitching and associate head coach. One of the top assistants in the nation, Henderson directed a pitching staff in 2008 that led the Southeastern Conference with a 3.71 ERA, and after being announced as UK’s 25th head coach during the second day of the 2008 MLB Draft in June, solidified UK’s fourth-ranked recruiting class, a program best and major coup in college baseball recruiting circles.
The Wildcats have been nearly unbeatable in non-conference, regular-season games during its last three seasons, running up a 71-7 record, including a 28-1 record in 2008. UK has also specialized in hot starts, rolling to a 19-0 record to begin the last two seasons.
A year ago, UK posted a school-record 44 wins and advanced to the final round of the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional, falling to No. 12 Arizona after eliminating host and No. 11 Michigan. UK lost a good chunk of its roster from 2008, including first-team All-America outfielders Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill, along with some of the best pitchers in program annals, including Andrew Albers, Brock Baber, Greg Dombrowski and Aaron Lovett.
Among the pieces that the Wildcats return, include 2008 first-team All-SEC pitcher Chris Rusin and six position starters. Junior southpaw James Paxton also returns, giving UK two-thirds of its weekend rotation from a year ago. Sophomore shortstop Chris Wade, a 2008 freshman All-America selection, and third baseman Chris McClendon help anchor the Wildcat infield. In the outfield, junior Keenan Wiley gives UK a defensive and offensive weapon in center field, while junior Troy Frazier and sophomore Bryan Rose look to build upon breakthrough seasons in 2008.
Paxton (4-2, 2.92 ERA in 2008) will get the starting nod in the opener, marking his first career season-opening start. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound lefty started 11 games for UK in 2008, making a total of 17 appearances. Paxton, a native of Ladner, British Columbia, hurled 52.1 innings a year ago, allowing only 46 hits, striking out 43. Paxton will face off with Troy’s 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior right-hander, Jason Walls. Walls, a native of Valley, Ala., posted a 9-3 record with a 4.00 ERA as a sophomore at Southern Union Community College in 2008.
In game one on Saturday, UK will start freshman right-hander Sean Bouthilette in his first career appearance against James Madison. Bouthilette, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder from Elizabethtown, Ky., will face off with JMU sophomore southpaw Alex Valadja. Valadja, a 6-foot-1, 185-pounder from Pittsburg, Pa., worked in six games with five starts in 2008, tossing 21.2 innings with 35 hits allowed, 28 earned runs, 16 walks and 16 strikeouts, finishing with an 11.68 ERA.
UK has yet to determine a starter for its first game with No. 22 Coastal Carolina, the second game of the doubleheader Saturday. UK will face Coastal Carolina junior right-hander Austin Fleet, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder from Edmond, Okla. Fleet, who redshirted the 2007 season due to injury, owns a 9-5 career record and a 3.89 career ERA, striking out 82 in 127.1 innings. Last season, Fleet posted a 5-3 record and a 4.43 ERA in 11 starts, tossing 61 innings, striking out 29 and walking 29.
On Sunday, Rusin (6-3, 3.33 ERA in 2008) will get the starting nod in the finale against Coastal Carolina. The preseason Brooks Wallace watch list member for the national player of the year, is coming off a stellar season and enters the year as a first-team All-SEC preseason pick by Rivals.com. Coastal Carolina will counter with sophomore southpaw Cody Wheeler. In 2008, Wheeler posted a 6-0 record and a 5.62 ERA in 21 games and 11 starts. Tossing 65.2 innings, Wheeler allowed 64 hits and 46 runs, walking 46 and striking out 65.
The Wildcats open with Troy on Friday, with the Trojans picked to win the rugged Sun Belt Conference in the preseason. Troy returns six position starters in 2008 and head coach Bobby Pierce is in his seventh season at Tory, posting a 213-139 record. Troy returns several key bats, including catcher Steven Felix (.325 avg., 6 HRs, 18 RBI in 2008), outfielder Michael Precise (.300, 11 HR, 57 RBI) and second baseman Adam Bryant (.310, 3 HRs, 24 RBI)
Saturday’s first test comes in 2008 NCAA tournament team James Madison, an annual power in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Dukes return six position starters from a team that hit .319 as a team in 2008, including outfielders Alex Foltz (.355, 7 HRs, 38 RBI, 19 SBs) and Matt Browning (.286, 8 HRs, 37 RBI), shortstop David Herbek (.306, 3 HRs, 18 RBI) and third baseman McKinnon Langston (.306, 1 HR, 36 RBI).
In UK’s second game Saturday and its final game Sunday, Coastal Carolina is coming off a breakthrough year for the program, a year that saw it host and win a NCAA regional, before falling to top-seeded North Carolina in the Cary Super Regional. Labeled as the top mid-major in the country by some, Coastal Carolina returns a potent lineup from 2008 that include, senior first baseman David Anderson (.333, 20 HRs, 59 RBI), sophomore third baseman Scott Woodward (.364, 7 HRs, 45 RBI, 42 SBs), second baseman Tyler Bortnick (.345, 6 HRs, 40 RBI) and outfielder Adam Rice (.344, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 13 SBs).
UK is 55-42-3 all-time in season openers, with UK winning five consecutive season openers for the first time since the 1987-91 seasons.
The Wildcats own a 1-2 all-time record with Coastal Carolina and a 2-1 advantage with Troy. UK’s contest with James Madison on Saturday will mark a first time meeting for the two schools.
Tentative Pitching Matchups
Friday vs. Troy
LHP James Paxton (Jr., 4-2, 2.92 ERA) vs. RHP Jason Walls (Jr. – transfer)
Saturday vs. James Madison
RHP Sean Bouthilette (Fr. – high school) vs. LHP Alex Valadja (So., 0-0, 11.63 ERA)
Saturday vs. Coastal Carolina
TBA vs. RHP Austin Fleet (Jr., 5-2, 4.43 ERA)
Sunday vs. Coastal Carolina
LHP Chris Rusin (Sr., 6-3, 3.33 ERA) vs. Cody Wheeler (So., 6-0, 5.62 ERA)
Kentucky – 0-0, 0-0 SEC
Troy – 0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt
James Madison – 0-0, 0-0 CAA
Coastal Carolina – 0-0, 0-0 Big South
Kentucky – No. 19 (Collegiate Baseball), No. 23 (NCBWA), Receiving Votes (USA Today/ESPN)
Troy – not ranked
James Madison – not ranked
Coastal Carolina – No. 28 (Collegiate Baseball), No. 22 (NCBWA), No. 24 (USA Today/ESPN)
Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change) – Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Friday, Feb. 20 vs. Troy * 2 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 21 vs. James Madison * Noon
Saturday, Feb. 21 at No. 22 Coastal Carolina * 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 22 at No. 22 Coastal Carolina * Noon
Radio (BBSN with Dick Gabriel)
Friday: WGVN 1580-AM in Lexington
Saturday: WGVN 1580-AM in Lexington
Saturday: WGVN 1580-AM in Lexington
Sunday: WXRA 1580-AM in Lexington
Kentucky: Live audio and stats on UKathletics.com
Coastal Carolina: Live video links available (only for UK’s second game Saturday and Sunday game vs. CCU) at www.goccusports.com/?tournament=4