Baseball Opens SEC Play at No. 3 LSU, Begins Road Swing

March 12, 2009

UK Game Notes (PDF)

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Riding a nine-game winning streak, the No. 29 Kentucky Wildcats open Southeastern Conference play with a three-game set at No. 3 LSU. First pitch Friday is slated for 8 p.m. ET, Saturday for 4 p.m. ET and Sunday for 2 p.m. ET.

The three-game series will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.

Kentucky (11-2) has not lost since back-to-back road setbacks at No. 12 Coastal Carolina on opening weekend. The Wildcats have cruised to the nine straight wins - all at home - setting the school-record for the longest home non-conference winning streak, a span of 29 games.

The series will kick off a five-game road swing that will include a trip to face Nicholls State Monday in Thibodeaux, La., at 7:30 p.m. ET and at New Orleans on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. UK then returns home for its first SEC home series of the year, hosting Vanderbilt.

The Wildcats will take part in the first SEC games to be played at the new Alex Box Stadium, a gorgeous new venue which replaced the original Alex Box. LSU, which has led the NCAA in attendance for 13 consecutive years, is off to an excellent start to the season, picking up where it left off after a brilliant 2008 campaign that culminated in the College World Series. The Tigers, who sat as the nation's top-ranked team for three weeks in 2009, suffered a series loss to Illinois last weekend, the only losses on LSU's sparkling resume.

Kentucky will send its two standout southpaws to the hill for Friday and Saturday, starting with junior James Paxton. The native of Ladner, British Columbia has won each start this season, posting a 3-0 record and a 3.63 ERA. A 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, Paxton ranks third in the league with 23 strikeouts in his 17.1 innings, walking only one. Saturday, senior Chris Rusin gets the nod, with the lefty looking for his third straight win. Rusin, a Canton, Mich., native, leads the SEC with 29 strikeouts in 17.1 innings, posting a 3.63 ERA and issuing only two walks. Sunday's starter has yet to be determined.

LSU (11-3) leads the all-time series with UK 37-19-1, including a 18-6-1 mark in Baton Rogue. Last season, LSU swept the Wildcats, part of a school-record winning streak for the Tigers. LSU edged UK in two narrow wins Friday and Sunday, getting an extra-inning win Friday and a two-out ninth inning go-ahead homer from the 2008 NCAA home run leader, Matt Clark, in Sunday's thriller. In 2007, UK traveled to LSU and escaped with a 1-1-1 series split, as the teams were forced to end the game in a tie due to SEC travel regulations. Overall, UK has won three of the last seven completed contests.

The Wildcats are coming off a 8-7 win over the Baseball America pick to win the Big Ten, Indiana. The Hoosiers, led by All-American catcher Josh Phegley, rapped out 14 hits, but UK found a way to win, behind a slew of newcomers, including first baseman William Campbell, who belted his first career homer, a two-run, game-tying jack. Campbell, a 6-foot-5, 265-pounder, later added the go-ahead RBI.

UK has been led by a hard-nosed offensive attack, highlighted by catcher Marcus Nidiffer (.390 avg., 2 HR, 11 RBI), second baseman Chris Bisson (.412, 5 2B, HR, 18 RBI, 4-4 SB) and shortstop Chris Wade (.313, 2 2B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 5-5 SB). Kentucky has relied heavily on newcomers in the UK lineup, with freshmen Chad Wright (.375, 2 2B, HR, 9 RBI, 2-2 SB), Cory Farris (.371, 7 RBI, 2-2 SB), Andy Burns (.343, 3B, 2 HR, 14 RBI) and Braden Kapteyn (.405, 3 2B, HR, 6 RBI) having an immediate impact.

Kentucky has won two of its last three opening SEC series, including a series win against LSU in 2007 in Lexington. UK swept Alabama to open conference action in 2008, part of a school-record 19-game winning streak.

SEC Teleconference Quotes - March 10

Kentucky Head Coach Gary Henderson

On how his team has done so far this season ...
"We have played 11 ball games and we looked like a young group that first weekend in Myrtle Beach. We have played a lot better since we have come home, which is to be expected, because playing at home is a lot easier. We have a pretty good group, although it is not a big group, of older kids that are back, and we have played a lot of young guys. We have a bunch of freshmen that have been in the mix, but they have responded well and we are kind of led by those returning guys that played for us last year - (Marcus) Nidiffer catching, (Chris) Wade at short, (Keenan) Wiley in center, Chris McClendon is an outstanding leader. He has been slowed by a hamstring injury and his presence is very valuable. We have that corps of veterans and a pretty substantial group of new kids. We are looking forward to going down to LSU, because that is obviously going to be a pretty good challenge for us."

On how challenging it will be to open at LSU ...
"Well, I guess plenty. We are looking forward to it. When you have young kids, you can only tell them so many times what it is going to be like. You can do everything you can to get them prepared but they still need to go and play. I am really looking forward to it. It is a group of kids that thinks they are pretty good, but they haven't been through this thing before; they don't know what they are in for. It is time to go, we are excited, really looking forward to it and I would imagine the challenge would be plenty."

On the difference in offensive philosophies from former head coach John Cohen ...
"I think there are some differences between my ideas and John's ideas, but more to the point, I think it is just a different group. I have told some of those people locally that I am a huge fan of the three-run home run. But, we have a younger group offensively and while I think that this group has some power in it down the road, I am not sure we are going to get some big power numbers out of freshmen or the kids we have returning. There is going to be a little bit of a difference in style, but we aren't opposed to power here, but we are going to have to find a way to win games without hitting as many home runs as we did last year."

On the pitching of hurlers Chris Rusin and James Paxton ...
"Well, the biggest thing, compared to the end of last year, is that they are healthy. While we never thought they had serious injuries, they had enough that neither of them really pitched. Paxton didn't pitch at all in the regionals and Rusin pitched an inning, so for all intents and purposes, they were non-existent. But, they are healthy now and they are pitching well. They are in the strike zone, they have two pitches, they are aggressive and they are veterans so they have a little bit of an idea of what it takes to be successful and obviously we are really pleased that they are back with us."

On the similarities and difference between Rusin and Paxton ...
"Well, they have different stuff. James is firmer then Chris, Chris is more on movement, although he is not a soft tosser by any stretch. Chris has more of a repertoire, more of an arsenal then James does. We think we do a pretty good job of getting kids to be aggressive at the front end of the at-bat, so we try to throw strikes early on. Both have been effective at throwing strikes."

LSU Head Coach Paul Maineri

On facing Kentucky this weekend ...
"One thing we do know about Kentucky, is that they have two really outstanding left-handed pitchers going on Friday and Saturday. We have great respect for both Chris Rusin and James Paxton. Last year, Rusin really pitched a great game against us and we somehow figured out a way to win the game. Paxton must have been hurt last year, because they took him out of the ball game in the first inning. It is going to be a great challenge."

On how to prepare for Kentucky ...
"Offensively, Kentucky lost some key hitters, but they are playing with confidence this year. We aren't too sure what to prepare for offensively, we just know they are going to play with a hard-nosed attitude, play hard and play with confidence. It should be a great matchup and we are looking forward to the competition."

Kentucky - 11-2, 0-0 SEC
LSU - 11-3, 0-0 SEC

Kentucky - No. 29 (Collegiate Baseball), receiving votes (NCBWA), receiving votes (USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll)
LSU - No. 3 (Collegiate Baseball), No. 5 (NCBWA), No. 4 (USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll), No. 4 (Baseball America)

Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change) - Baton Rogue, La.
Friday, March 13 * 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 14 * 4 p.m.
Sunday, March 15 * 2 p.m.

Radio (BBSN with Neil Price)
Friday, March 13 
• WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
Saturday, March 14
• WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
Sunday, March 15
• WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville

Tentative Pitching Matchups
Friday vs. LSU
LHP James Paxton (3-0, 3.63 ERA) vs. TBA
Saturday vs. LSU
LHP Chris Rusin (2-1, 3.63 ERA) vs. TBA
Sunday vs. LSU