Baseball Travels to Face No. 21 Alabama

April 23, 2009

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Coming off a Southeastern Conference series win at Mississippi State in Starkville last weekend, the Kentucky baseball team returns to the road, traveling to face the No. 21 Alabama Crimson Tide in a three-game set at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. First pitch Friday is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Last weekend, Kentucky (21-19, 6-12 SEC) won two of three games in Starkville during Super Bulldog Weekend. The Wildcats got a series-opening win Friday, a 5-4 result in 11 innings, before falling in 10 innings Saturday in front of over 10,000 fans. Sunday, UK edged MSU in a slugfest, 22-17, securing its first series win in Starkville since the 1998 season.

The Wildcats have been led offensively by its sophomore second baseman, Chris Bisson, who leads the team in average (.386), runs (38), hits (64), doubles (9), RBI (42), ranking second with 11 steals. Bisson has been joined on an everyday basis in the UK lineup by veterans Chris Wade (.295, 8 2B, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 13-14 SB), Marcus Nidiffer (.291, 4 2B, 5 HR, 23 RBI) and Keenan Wiley (.262, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 10-11 SB). First baseman Gunner Glad, a junior college transfer, leads UK with seven homers, adding 29 RBI in just 84 at bats on the year, batting .310.

UK has relied heavily on freshmen for its offensive production, with outfielder Chad Wright shining as one of the top freshmen in the nation, claiming SEC Freshman of the Week Monday. Wright ranks second on the team with a .358 average (44-for-123), adding five doubles, one triple, two homers, 13 RBI and six stolen bases, totaling a team-best four outfield assists. Wright, a native of Paducah, Ky., has now reached base safely in 24 of his last 33 plate appearances, a 73-percent clip, dating back to Tuesday’s win at Louisville. Since moving to the lead-off spot against No. 3 Georgia Sunday, Wright has reached base safely in 26 of his last 39 appearances, a 67-percent mark. In addition, freshmen Andy Burns (.280, 7 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 23 RBI), Braden Kapteyn (.300, 7 2B, HR, 13 RBI) and Cory Farris (.262, 9 RBI) have all seen significant time in the Wildcat lineup.

UK will send its regular weekend starting rotation to the mound to face off with Alabama, beginning with junior lefty James Paxton (4-2, 5.58 ERA) Friday, facing off with Alabama’s ace right-hander, Austin Hyatt (6-1, 3.24 ERA). Saturday, senior southpaw Chris Rusin (4-3, 4.28 ERA) will get the starting nod, facing off with lefty Del Howell (5-1, 3.79 ERA). Sunday, Alabama will start right-hander Adam Scott (1-1, 4.61 ERA) opposite of UK freshman Alex Meyer (1-2, 5.00 ERA).

In the bullpen, Kapteyn leads UK with three saves in 16 relief appearances, totaling a 3-0 record and 34 strikeouts in his first 24.1 college innings. Sophomore southpaw Logan Darnell (4-4, 4.80 ERA) has appeared in a team-high 21 games in relief.

UK is coming off a pair of mid-week losses to Lipscomb and Evansville Tuesday and Wednesday. Holding a three-run lead with one out in the top of the ninth against Lipscomb, UK committed two fielding errors, walked two, had two wild pitches and one passed ball that led to five unearned runs in the ninth, with Lipscomb walking away with an 8-7 win. Wednesday, UK allowed a seven-run inning to the Purple Aces in the fourth off freshman Chase Greene (0-0, 15.88 ERA), who relieved freshman starter Sean Bouthilette (2-1, 7.94 ERA).

Kentucky trails the all-time series with Alabama, 48-30, including a 23-13 mark in Tuscaloosa. Last season, UK totaled a 4-1 record against Alabama, sweeping the Tide in Lexington on the opening weekend of SEC play and notching a conference tournament opening win in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Alabama eliminated UK from the SEC Tournament with a 13-4 win, that saw Howell pitch a gem against the Wildcats, which included an Alabama first-inning grand slam at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. UK has not won a series in Tuscaloosa since the 1993 season, getting wins in the first two games of the series. UK’s opening win against Alabama began well after midnight ET on opening night of the tournament in 2008, ending shortly before 3 a.m. ET.

Alabama (27-14, 10-8 SEC) senior outfielder Kent Matthes (.375, 22 HR, 65 RBI) leads the NCAA in home runs, with homers in 18 of his 39 games this year, with multi-homer games four times and home runs against all six SEC teams faced in 2009. Jake Smith (.371, 14 HR, 37 RBI), Taylor Dugas (.393, 2 HR, 24 RBI), Brandon May (.329, 8 HR, 46 RBI), Clay Jones (.360, 5 HR, 32 RBI), Vin DiFazio (.315, 7 HR, 18 RBI) and Josh Rutledge (.326, 4 HR, 4 RBI) have anchored the UA lineup.

Alabama has proven to have one of the best offensive attacks in the nation, posting a .342 batting average and 86 home runs in 41 games this season. The Tide is averaging 9.6 runs and 12.5 hits per game this season with Alabama has scoring in double figures 18 times. Alabama’s current .342 batting average would surpass the single-season record of .340 set by the 1997 UA team.