Baseball Opens SEC Play Friday with Tennessee
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With wins in six of its last seven games, the Kentucky baseball team opens league play, hosting Tennessee in a three-game series as part of opening weekend in the Southeastern Conference, with first pitch on Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium set for 6:30 p.m. ET. The series will resume on Saturday and Sunday with both games set for a 1 p.m. ET first pitch.
All three games will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with Dick Gabriel calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the games live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM, in addition to online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky (10-7, 0-0 SEC) is riding a four-game winning streak entering conference action, including a series sweep last weekend and a Tuesday comeback win over Murray State (8-8). The Wildcats have played a challenging early-season schedule entering conference action, including traveling to play in invitational tournaments at No. 20 College of Charleston and the prestigious 2011 Houston College Classic, hosted by the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Tennessee (15-2, 0-0 SEC) is coming off a 5-2 win over Austin Peay (8-7) on the road Wednesday, the first road game for the Volunteers on the 2011 season. UT played 16 consecutive games at home to open the year, including wins over Milwaukee (2-10), Canisius (4-10), Bradley (9-6), Morehead State (2-15), New Orleans (1-15), Manhattan (4-9) and Alabama A&M (1-13). The lone losses on the year for UT came vs. Indiana (11-5) and Milwaukee.
The Volunteers have put up staggering team numbers through 17 games with the new bat standards, including leading the league in batting average (.338), slugging percentage (.504), on-base percentage (.440), hits (186), hit batters (34) and stolen bases (44). The Vols also rank second in the league in runs (135), RBI (126) and home runs (14). On the mound, UT owns a 2.86 team ERA and have fielded .972 as a team.
UK will send its weekend trio to the mound for the fifth consecutive weekend, with junior right-hander Alex Meyer (2-2, 2.60 ERA) getting the call on Friday vs. UT ace junior southpaw Steven Gruver (2-0, 1.27 ERA). On Saturday, UK sophomore right-hander Jordan Cooper (1-0, 3.13 ERA) will face UT sophomore right-hander Drew Steckenrider (1-0, 4.50 ERA). Sophomore UK southpaw Taylor Rogers (1-1, 4.62 ERA) will make his fifth start of the year on Sunday, with UT not yet announcing a starter for the series finale.
A 6-foot-9, 220-pounder, Meyer will make his 27th career start on Friday vs. the Vols. A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer leads the league in strikeouts (39) and batters struck out looking (19), while ranking third in the league in innings pitched (27.2) and eighth in opponent batting average (.184). Meyer has allowed only 16 hits in his 27.2 frames and is coming off a complete-game shutout outing on Saturday, where he struck out a career-high tying 13 and allowed only five hits.
Gruver has been UT's ace throughout the season, leading the team with 28.1 innings pitched in his four starts. A 6-foot-1, lefty, Gruver has allowed only 20 hits and six walks in his 28.1 innings, striking out 30. Gruver had his breakout moment in 2010 when facing the Wildcats in a rubber match, going six innings and allowing just four hits and one UK run on May 2, 2010 in Knoxville. In his last start, Gruver went a complete nine innings vs. Manhattan, allowing only five hits and two runs, striking out six.
Cooper will make his fifth start of the year on Saturday, with the 6-foot-3 righty owning 23 innings pitched on the year, with 16 strikeouts. A native of Shelbyville, Tenn., Cooper has been a workhorse in the rotation during the season, including one breakout game in his four starts. In a 2-1 win over Utah in the Houston College Classic, Cooper went seven innings and struck out a career-high nine to lift the Wildcats to the win. In his last start on Sunday vs. Niagara, Cooper didn't have his best stuff but battled through 6.2 innings with only one run allowed, walking four and striking out three, with Niagara's run coming in the top of the first after getting a leadoff double. Cooper made a start vs. Gruver and Tennessee in 2010 in Knoxville, with Cooper taking the hard-luck loss after going five innings and allowing two runs.
Steckenrider will make his third start of the season vs. UK on Saturday. A sophomore out of Lawrenceville, Ga., Steckenrider has appeared in four games with one save, tossing 14 innings with 17 hits allowed, walking five and striking out 14. In his last start on Saturday vs. Manhattan, Steckenrider went 5.1 innings, allowing four hits and four runs, walking three and striking out three.
A native of Littleton, Colo., Rogers will make his fifth start of the year on Sunday vs. the Vols. Rogers has tossed 25.1 innings on the year, with only three walks and 21 strikeouts, allowing 31 hits and 13 earned runs. In his last start on Friday vs. Niagara, Rogers went seven innings and allowed seven hits and two earned runs, walking just one and striking out five. A 6-foot-3, 170-pound southpaw, Rogers has made quality starts in three of four outings this year. In 2010, Rogers faced UT and Vols ace Stephen McCary in Knoxville, with Rogers taking the loss and UT closer Matt Ramsey picking up the win. Rogers went seven innings vs. UT, allowing 11 hits and eight runs – seven earned, with two walks and two strikeouts. UT's damage off Rogers came in the first two innings, as the lefty allowed five runs, taking a tie game at 6-6 into the eighth inning, with two runners reaching off Rogers and the UK bullpen allowing them to score.
The Wildcats have been paced by a .299 team batting average and a 3.60 ERA on the mound as a club, also posting a .977 fielding percentage. Centerfielder Brian Adams leads the team with a .390 average (16-for-41) with five doubles and seven RBI. Freshman J.T. Riddle has batted .355 (11-for-31) with four doubles and five RBI, while leftfielder Chad Wright has batted .344 (21-for-61) with six doubles, two homers, also leading the team in walks (10), RBI (15) and stolen bases (nine). Catcher Luke Maile has batted .328 (19-for-58) with six doubles, one homer and nine RBI, while third sacker Thomas McCarthy has hit .292 (19-for-65) with a team-high eight doubles, adding one homer and five RBI, stealing 5-of-5 bases. Braden Kapteyn has hit .290 (18-for-62) with four doubles, one triple and two homers, adding 12 RBI, while senior shortstop Taylor Black owns a .284 mark (19-for-67) with six doubles, two triples, one homer and 14 RBI. Knoxville native Michael Williams has batted .230 (14-for-61) with three doubles and a club-high three homers.
In the bullpen, freshman righty Trevor Gott (1-1, 0.00 ERA0 and sophomore right-hander Walter Wijas (2-0, 1.46 ERA) lead the club with seven appearances in relief. Gott has posted a save in 10.2 innings with 14 strikeouts and Wijas has tossed 12.1 innings with 11 punchouts. Senior southpaw Mike Kaczmarek (0-0, 0.00 ERA) has three saves in five relief outings, with five innings pitched and only two hits allowed. Freshman southpaw Corey Littrell (2-1, 6.75 ERA), who was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday, has made five appearances with three starts, tossing 21.1 innings with 17 strikeouts.
The Vols have been led individually by leadoff man Khayyan Norfork, who has batted an eye-popping .492 (29-for-59) with seven doubles, two triples, two homers and 19 RBI through 17 games with the new bats. Norfork has walked a staggering 17 times and only struck out five times. Norfork leads the SEC in average (.492), slugging (.780), on-base percentage (.625), hits (29), walks (17) and steals (15). Matt Duffy, the UT No. 3 hitter, has batted .397 (23-for-58) with five doubles, one triple, three homers and a SEC-leading 24 RBI. Shortstop Zach Osborne, a Louisville, Ky., native, has batted .340 (18-for-53) with four doubles, one homer and nine RBI. Andrew Toles, the typical No. 2 hitter, has hit .333 (22-for-66) with seven doubles, two triples and 13 RBI, stealing nine bases. Outfielder Josh Liles has hit .288 with 10 RBI, while Charley Thurber (.250, HR, 5 RBI) and Ramsey (.245, 3 RBI) help round out the lineup. Freshman catcher Ethan Bennett, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., leads the team with four homers, batting .448 (13-for-29) with 17 RBI through just eight starts.
On the mound, UT has been led out of the bullpen by Carter Watson (3-0, 0.00 ERA) who has 13.2 innings pitched in seven relief outings. Zack Godley (0-0, 0.00 ERA) has also appeared in seven games with two saves, striking out 16 in 10.1 innings. Ramsey (0-0, 0.00 ERA) has returned to pitching, in addition to catching, recently and has two saves in three outings, striking out six in three no-hit innings.
Since the Wildcats claimed the 2006 SEC Championship, UK has won two of its last five SEC opening series, including a series sweep in 2008 over Alabama and a series win over LSU in 2006. Last season, UK fell in two of three games vs. Ole Miss, winning the finale in the series. UK opened 2009 on the road at LSU, winning one of the first three SEC games ever played at the new Alex Box Stadium. In 2007, UK won one of three games vs. Arkansas in Lexington.
The Wildcats have several Tennessee ties throughout its roster in 2011, including four natives of Tennessee (Kevin Bein, Jordan Cooper, Paul McConkey, Michael Williams). McConkey and Williams are natives of Knoxville, with McConkey playing at Halls High School and Williams prepping at nationally renowned and current high school No. 1 ranked Farragut High School. Cooper is a native of Shelbyville, Tenn., and was a highly recruited prep athlete at of Shelbyville Central High School, where he was considered the best high school prospect in the state in 2009. Bein, who had Tommy John surgery in the summer before arriving on campus, is a native of Franklin, Tenn., where he played at Franklin High School. UT has one played out of the state of Kentucky, junior shortstop Zach Osborne, who prepped at Pleasure Ridge Park in Louisville, Ky. UK's Williams played with three current UT players at Farragut, including Matt Ramsey, Ethan Bennett and freshman Nick Williams.
Tennessee leads the overall series with the Wildcats, 159-137, with UK leading 71-69 in games played in Lexington. The Wildcats have won seven of the last 10 meetings in the series, including five consecutive from 2007-09.
Last year, the Vols won the series, as UK pounded out six homer in a 12-8 win in the series opener on a windy Friday, before falling 8-6 on Saturday and suffering a 3-1 rubber-match loss on Sunday. In the opener on Friday, UK got a career outing from Black, who hit 2-for-4 with two homers and five RBI. Kapteyn added a 2-for-4 game, while catcher Marcus Nidiffer batted 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBI. Lance Ray added a homer and two RBI and Chris Bisson went 2-for-4 with two steals in the late April series. Logan Darnell took the win, going 6.1 innings with five runs allowed, with UT plating three runs in the seventh to chase him from the game. Kaczmarek was the relief star for UK, getting the final three outs. Duffy led UK at the plate with a 2-for-4, three RBI game, while Bryan Morgado taking the loss after allowing seven runs in four innings. On Saturday, UK allowed UT to score two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Vols got stellar relief from Ramsey for an 8-6 win. Rogers started for UK and went seven frames, with UT starter McCray going 5.2 innings with six runs. Wright, Bisson and Gunner Glad charted multi-hit games for UK, with reliever Matt Little allowing the inherited runners to score as the decisive runs of the game. Cody Hawn and P.J. Polk each had three RBI to lead UT at the dish. In the Sunday game, Cooper turned in a strong enough start in place of an ill Meyer, who missed the trip due to mononucleosis. Cooper allowed two runs in five innings, as Gruver picked up the win with one runs allowed in six frames. Bisson and Glad had UK's lone two-hit performances, with six UT players each contributing one hit on a wind-blowing-in Sunday in Knoxville.
UK ranks throughout the league stats, ranking eighth in batting average (.299), fifth in slugging (.451), fifth in on-base percentage (.406), ninth in runs scored (100), second in doubles (44) and fifth in homers (11). UK ranks second in HBP (33), first in sac bunts (25) and fifth in stolen bases (32). On the mound, UK ranks 10th in ERA (3.60), fourth in strikeouts (146), first in batters struck out looking (63) and second in runners picked off (seven). Defensively, UK ranks fourth in fielding percentage (.977) and second in runners caught stealing (11). Individually, McCarthy ranks third in the league in doubles (eight), Black ranks fifth in triples (two) and Williams ranks seventh in homers (three). Kapteyn checks in second in HBP (eight) and Wright ranks sixth in HBP (five) and third in stolen bases (nine). Meyer ranks eighth in opponent batting average (.184), third in innings pitched (27.2), first in strikeouts (39) and first in batters struck out looking (19). Rogers ranks 10th in the league in innings pitched (25.1), while Kaczmarek ranks seventh in saves (three). Littrell ranks first in the league with three pickoffs, while Cooper ranks fourth with two pickoffs. Defensively, Williams ranks second in runners caught stealing (seven).
UK will utilize three lots during UK's spring break: the C8 lot behind Shively Sports Center, the "R" lot, adjacent to the dorms or on the south side of the Nutter Training Facility, and the brand-new Parking Structure 7 on the corner of Complex Drive and Jerry Claiborne Way. All three parking lots are only steps away from Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Fans who park in the PS7 lot will be given a parking value card to exit the structure free of charge. Value cards should be picked up at the baseball ticket booth prior to the fifth inning.
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