HOUSTON -- Eight games deep into the 2011 season, the Kentucky baseball team returns to action on Friday, traveling to the prestigious Houston College Classic, hosted by the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. UK will face No. 17 Rice on Friday at 8 p.m. ET, Houston on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET and Utah on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park.
Kentucky (4-4) is coming off a successful five-game week, posting a series win over Illinois-Chicago and midweek wins over Morehead State and Eastern Michigan. The Wildcats opened up the season with three losses at the College of Charleston invitational, falling to No. 20 COC, Marshall and Miami (Ohio) as UK’s lineup, filled with first-year starters, hit .181 as a team.
The Wildcats rebounded upon returning to the Commonwealth, using a 20-hit barrage to post a 12-3 win at Morehead State, before using a sterling pitching performance from freshman southpaw Corey Littrell in a win over EMU, with Littrell carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his first career start. After UIC scored eight unanswered runs to win the series opener on Friday, UK posted a 13-3 win on Saturday, using a grandslam from shortstop Taylor Black, before winning the series on Sunday 3-1 vs. UIC.
The three games on the weekend will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with Dick Gabriel calling the action. UK’s game on Friday with Rice will be on WLAP 630-AM in Lexington and depending on the outcome of the UK’s women’s Southeastern Conference Tournament contest will determine whether the Saturday game will be on WLAP or WGVN 1580-AM. On Sunday, the game will be broadcast live on WGVN 1580-AM. In addition, all three games are available on UKathletics.com.
After the five-game week, including a stretch of eight games in the first 10 days of the season, UK did not have a midweek contest this week, preparing for the Houston College Classic. On Monday, Black was tabbed SEC Player of the Week, as UK’s shortstop hit .529 with nine runs scored and nine RBI over the five-game span.
The Wildcats will start the same weekend rotation as last weekend, with sophomore southpaw Taylor Rogers (0-0, 3.55 ERA) starting on Friday. UK will used Alex Meyer (1-1, 3.00 ERA) on Saturday and the Wildcats will turn to sophomore Jordan Cooper (0-0, 5.79 ERA).
Rogers, a native of Littleton, Colo., has made two quality starts to open the year, tossing 12.2 innings with 13 strikeouts and just one walk. In his last start, Rogers went 6.2 innings pitched, allowing three earned runs with six strikeouts.
Meyer will make the start on Saturday vs. Houston, with the 6-foot-9, 220-pound right-hander coming off a start that saw him strikeout seven through five innings. In his season debut vs. Miami (Ohio), Meyer was named Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week after fanning 13 through seven innings. On the year, Meyer has hurled 12 innings pitched with only six hits allowed and 20 strikeouts. Houston will start lefty Jordan Lewis (1-0, 1.64 ERA). Lewis has made two starts on the year and tossed 11 innings, allowing nine hits and two runs, walking two and striking out six.
On Sunday, Cooper will make his third start of the year. The native of Shelbyville, Tenn., has tossed 9.1 innings this season, with one save. In his last start, Cooper battled through 5.1 innings pitched, allowing eight hits and one run. Cooper will face off with Utah sophomore right-hander Joe Pond (0-2, 8.31 ERA). Pond has tossed 8.2 innings with seven walks and six strikeouts.
Offensively, UK has been led by catcher Luke Maile, who has batted .419 (13-for-31) with four doubles and five RBI through eight games. Black has hit .345 (10-for-29) with three doubles, one triple and one homer, drawing five walks and striking out just two times. Thomas McCarthy has manned the hot corner through eight games, batting .344 (11-for-32) with an SEC-leading seven doubles. First baseman Braden Kapteyn has a .310 average (9-for-29) with one homer and seven RBI.
In the bullpen, Walter Wijas leads UK with 8.2 scoreless innings through four appearances to start the season. Freshman Trevor Gott has tossed six shutout innings with seven strikeouts to open his career, while UK has used senior Mike Kaczmarek for two crucial relief outings, with Kaczmarek picking up a save on Sunday.
Rice (6-3) has been led by arguably the best position player in college baseball, third baseman Anthony Rendon. Rendon leads the team with a .429 average (15-for-35) through 10 games, with two doubles, one triple, two homers and seven RBI, drawing 11 walks and striking out just four times. Craig Manuel has hit .364 (12-for-33) with four RBI, while Michael Fuda has hit .308 (8-for-26). As a team, Rice is hitting .272 with seven homers and 65 RBI and on the mound the team has totaled a 5.06 ERA in 89 innings with 85 strikeouts and 37 walks.
Houston (5-3) is coming off a series defeat to Ole Miss in Houston, falling in the Friday and Sunday meetings with a win on Saturday. The Cougars have been led by a .323 team average with 17 doubles, seven triples, six homers and 51 RBI through eight games. On the mound as a team, UH owns a 3.55 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 21 walks in 71 innings. Individually, Caleb Ramsey has a .444 average (12-for-27) with five doubles, one triple and 10 RBI through eight games. Chase Jensen has a .395 average (15-for-38) with two doubles, one triple, one homer and ninr RBI. John Cannon owns a .381 average (8-for-21) with three RBI. In relief, Dakota Dill and Jordan Mannisto lead the team with four relief outings. Jordan Lewis, Codey Morehehouse and Chase Depsay have each made two starts.
Utah (0-5) is coming off a weekend sweep at the hands of Arkansas in Fayetteville last weekend. The Utes have batted .196 as a team, with three homers and 12 runs scored through five games. Utah has totaled a 6.64 ERA on the mound, tossing 40.2 innings with 44 strikeouts and 21 walks. Individually, C.J. Cron leads Utah with a .389 average (7-for-18) with all three of Utah’s homers on the year. Trey Nielson owns a .294 average (5-for-17) with a double and an RBI and James Brooks has a .227 average (5-for-22) with a stolen base. On the mound, Rick Anton, Zach Adams and Pond have made all of the starts for the Utes. Kelsey Kondo, Brock Duke and Stephen Streich have each appeared in two games in relief.
Kentucky – 4-4, 0-0 SEC
Rice – 6-3, 0-0 C-USA
Houston – 5-3, 0-0 C-USA
Utah – 0-5, 0-0 Mountain West
Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change) – Houston, Texas.
Friday, March 3 * vs. No. 17 Rice * 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 4 * vs. Houston * 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 5 * vs. Utah * 12 p.m.
Radio (BBSN with Dick Gabriel)
Friday: WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
Saturday: WGVN 1580-AM or WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
Sunday: WGVN 1580-AM in Lexington
Live video, audio and stats on UKathletics.com
Tentative Pitching Matchups
Friday vs. Rice
So., LHP Taylor Rogers (0-0, 3.55 ERA) vs. TBA
Saturday vs. Houston
Jr., RHP Alex Meyer (1-1, 3.000 ERA) vs. Jr., LHP Jordan Lewis (1-0, 1.64 ERA)
Sunday vs. Utah
So., RHP Jordan Cooper (0-0, 5.79 ERA) vs. So., RHP Joe Pond (0-2, 8.31 ERA)
Minute Maid Park (40,950)
Select tickets for the Houston College Classic are available and can be purchased online at astros.com/collegeclassic, or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-877-9ASTROS. Tickets may also be purchased at all of the Astros regular Houston-area Ticketmaster outlets. Available beginning Monday will be $13 daily admission tickets as well as $30 three-day tournament passes. Children’s tickets (ages 4-14) are $6 daily and $15 for the tournament. Season ticket holders (27-game packages and up) are offered a half-price discount for tournament ($15 per package) and daily admission tickets ($6.50 per day). Reserved seating is also available for evening games in the Club Level for $20 for adults and $10 for kids. Luxury Suites can be purchased for the entire tournament or on a daily basis by calling 1-800-ASTROS2.
The popular College Classic Coca-Cola Student Value Package will also now be available for purchase online. This special ticket option, available to high school and college students and kids from ages 4-14, includes a day pass, a voucher for one 16-ounce Coca-Cola product and a regular hot dog for only $10.
The Minute Maid Park Box Office will begin selling Houston College Classic tickets on Monday, Jan. 31, between the hours of 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. CT. The MMP Box Office will sell reserved seating in the Diamond Club for $30 per game (subject to availability), in addition to all ticket options listed above.
Parking for the tournament will be available in the Astros controlled parking lots B and C for $5 each day.