Baseball Travels to No. 4 Florida for 2011 Finale
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Fresh of a series win over Georgia in the final Southeastern Conference home weekend, the Kentucky Wildcats will travel to face No. 4 Florida in the final series of the 2011 season, beginning on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at McKethan Stadium. The series will resume on Friday at 7 p.m. ET and conclude on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.
Kentucky (24-28, 7-20 SEC) picked up its first series win over Georgia since the 2007 season with wins on Friday and Saturday in the series. The Wildcats fell just short of their first sweep of the Bulldogs since 1993 in a 7-6 loss in the finale on Sunday. UK also posted an 8-5 midweek win over Indiana on Tuesday at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Throughout the week, the Wildcats rode the red-hot bat of junior third baseman Thomas McCarthy, who was named Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week on Monday after collecting 13 hits in 19 at bats, with two doubles, two homers and nine RBI during the four-game week.
The three games 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, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
UK rode a dynamic offensive approach during the four-game week, batting .393 overall with nine homers, 59 hits and 33 runs scored as a team. UK was led by McCarthy throughout the week, with the third sacker batting .684 during the four games and .714 (10-for-14) during the three-game weekend. McCarthy tallied his first career multi-homer game on Saturday, as UK clinched the series with a dominating 12-5 win.
The Wildcats have been led offensively by McCarthy, who paces UK with a .359 average, adding an SEC-leading 19 doubles, one triple, seven homers and 34 RBI, stealing eight bases. Chad Wright has hit .345 with 14 doubles, six homers and 34 RBI, swiping 16 bags. Shortstop Taylor Black has added a .308 mark with three homers and 37 RBI, while UK's two-man catching tandem of Luke Maile and Michael Williams have combined for 16 homers and 57 RBI.
On the mound, UK has been led by one of the top starting pitchers in the country, Meyer, who leads UK and the SEC with 101 strikeouts in 94 innings. In relief, UK lefty Alex Phillips (1-2, 2.36 ERA) has appeared in a team-high 26 games with two saves and only one walk in 34.1 frames. Freshman Trevor Gott (2-4, 2.73 ERA) has added two saves in 22 relief outings, with 32 strikeouts in 26.1 innings.
Florida (39-13, 20-7 SEC) enters the series locked in a three-way battle for the regular-season SEC Title. The defending SEC Champion Gators are tied with defending NCAA Champion South Carolina and high-powered Vanderbilt for first place. While UF hosts Kentucky, South Carolina travels to Alabama (13-14) and Vanderbilt travels to Georgia (15-12), with Alabama trying to clinch the SEC West or a berth in the SEC Tournament and Georgia needing to win two of three in order to help solidify a resume for the NCAA Tournament, with an above .500 overall record a must. As a team, the Gators have hit .306, with 46 home runs (second in the SEC), 103 doubles, 174 walks and 296 strikeouts in 52 games, stealing 44 bases and fielding .975 as a team. On the mound, UF owns a staggering 2.79 ERA as a team with 11 saves in 464 innings, allowing only 418 hits and 93 walks, striking out 396.
UK will revise its weekend rotation, sending sophomore southpaw Taylor Rogers (3-6, 5.01 ERA) on Thursday to face Florida ace right-hander Hudson Randall (8-2, 2.14 ERA). On Friday, UK will turn to junior right-hander Alex Meyer (6-5, 3.06 ERA) to face Florida standout southpaw Brian Johnson (7-3, 3.38 ERA). In the season finale, UF righty Karsten Whitson (6-0, 2.51 ERA) will get the start with UK yet to announce a starter.
The Wildcats will turn to Rogers (3-6, 5.01 ERA) for the start on Thursday. Rogers made his first career midweek start last week vs. Indiana and turned in his sixth quality start of the year. Rogers has made 12 starts and made one relief outing, tossing 70 innings, allowing 16 walks and striking out 47. Rogers will face off with SEC Pitcher of the Year candidate Randall, one of the most consistent and efficient pitchers in college baseball, tossing a 74-pitch complete game earlier in the year. In his 13 starts, Randall owns two complete games, tossing 84 innings, allowing 73 hits and only six walks, striking out 44.
A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer has made 13 weekend starts on the year and is in the midst of a stellar five-start stretch that has vaulted him into top-five consideration in the 2011 MLB Draft. On the year, Meyer leads the SEC in innings pitched (94), strikeouts (101), complete games (four) and complete-game shutouts (two), walking 43 and allowing only 73 hits. Meyer ranks ninth in the SEC with a 3.06 ERA and sixth in opponent average (.225). Over his last five starts, Meyer has totaled a 3-1 record and a 2.09 ERA with two complete games. Owning nine quality starts on the year, Meyer has totaled a 2.24 ERA in his quality outings, striking out 86 in 76.1 frames. Meyer has been victimized by some tough luck, as the UK offense has hit .277 with 4.3 runs scored per game in his starts and the UK bullpen owns a 7.58 ERA in his outings, allowing all seven of the inherited runners from Meyer to score. Johnson has made 13 starts on the weekend, tossing 72 innings, with 66 hits and 14 walks allowed, striking out 62.
Whitston, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft out of high school, is arguably the best freshman pitcher in college baseball. On the year, he has started 13 games and is a perfect 6-0, striking out 67 in 68 innings, walking 21 and allowing 58 hits.
The Gators have been led offensively by standout catcher Mike Zunino, who has hit .367 with 18 doubles, 12 homers and 51 RBI. Second baseman Josh Adams owns a .341 mark with five homers and 35 RBI, while slugger Preston Tucker has hit .320 with 10 homers and 47 RBI. Outfielder Daniel Pigott owns a .316 average with 16 doubles, two homers and 30 RBI, while slick-fielding shortstop Nolan Fontana owns a .315 average with three homers and 33 RBI. Johnson has hit .305 with three homers and 19 RBI, while slugger Austin Maddox has added four homers and 29 RBI.
In the bullpen for UF, Lexington native Nick Maronde (0-0, 1.80 ERA) owns two saves in 26 appearances, striking out 43 in 30 innings. Antony DeSclafani (5-2, 3.73 ERA) has appeared in 22 games with a team-high three saves. Maddox (2-0, 0.89 ERA) has saved two games in 15 outings, striking out 17 in 20.1 innings. Greg Larson (1-1, 1.72 ERA) has appeared in 23 games, while lefty Steven Rodriguez (2-1, 1.73 ERA) has appeared in 22 games with two saves and 31 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Florida leads the all-time series with UK 127-55-1, including a 60-16 mark in games played in Gainesville. The Gators have won the last two series after UK won the meetings in 2006 and 2008.
In the last series, Florida posted a pair of wins in the first two games in Lexington in 2010 to claim the series, before UK rallied to win the finale on Sunday. UK was led by Black, Wright and Marcus Nidiffer, who each totaled four hits. Nidiffer launched two homers, while Black added one in the series. On Friday night, Florida erased an early 3-0 UK lead with five runs in the top of the fifth inning and held on for a 10-8 win. UK starter Logan Darnell went six innings, allowing six runs and striking out three. Alex Panteliodis started for UF and went 5.1 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs. Maddox launched his 10th homer of the year, as part of a 3-for-5 game. On Saturday, UK got to Randall, as the righty went three innings, allowing three hits and walking five, striking out two. Rogers started for UK and went 6.2 strong innings in a hard-luck loss, allowing four runs. The game featured the only career ejected for UK head coach Gary Henderson in the ninth inning. In the finale, UK rode an early 6-0 lead and held off for a 6-5 win, with Matt Little picking up the save. Walter Wijas was the surprise starter, going 3.1 innings, not allowing a runner on until the fourth inning of work in his lone career start, as Meyer was out with illness. Lance Ray led UK at the plate, going 3-for-3. In the 2009 series in Gainesville, UF won the second and third games of the set to claim the series. UK was led by Wright throughout the series, batting .636 with seven hits and 11 at bats and drawing two walks, including a solo homer off UF closer Billy Bullock.