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No. 2 Baseball Puts Streak on Line at Cincinnati

Chandler Shepherd will make his fourth career start at Cincinnati Wednesday.

Chandler Shepherd will make his fourth career start at Cincinnati Wednesday.

March 20, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Off to the best start in school history and sitting just two wins shy of equaling the Southeastern Conference record for the most consecutive wins, No. 2 Kentucky puts its streak on the line in a midweek tilt at Cincinnati, with first pitch on Wednesday set for 4 p.m. ET at Marge Schott Stadium.

Kentucky (21-0, 3-0 SEC) is just two wins away from equaling the SEC record for the longest winning streak, set during LSU’s 2009 NCAA Championship run, a 23-game span. A win at Cincinnati on Wednesday would tie UK for the second-longest streak in the storied history of the conference, as South Carolina ran up a 22-game streak in 2000.

The game will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WGVN 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com.

UK will send freshman right-hander Chandler Shepherd (1-0, 3.10 ERA) to the mound for his third career start. Shepherd is coming off five shutout innings in a start vs. Murray State last Wednesday at Cliff Hagan Stadium, a 2-1 UK win. In his first three career starts with four appearances, Shepherd has tossed 14.1 innings, with five walks and nine strikeouts. Cincinnati has yet to announce a starter for Wednesday.

UK’s 21-game winning streak has eclipsed the previous school-record of a 19-0 opening to the 2007 and 2008 campaigns. The Wildcats set the new school-record with their historic sweep of the No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks – the two-time defending NCAA Champions – over the weekend. UK stands alone as the only unbeaten team in the nation, leading the NCAA in wins.

On Monday, UK’s weekend sweep and 21-0 start was honored throughout the nation, as Kentucky moved up as high as No. 2 in the latest weekly polls. Collegiate Baseball tabbed UK No. 2, while the USA Today/ESPN coaches top-25 had UK No. 6, Baseball America ranked UK No. 16 and No. 13 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association of America top-30. UK’s No. 2 national ranking is its highest since Collegiate Baseball tabbed UK No. 2 on March 17, 2008. In addition, UK freshman two-way standout A.J. Reed was named SEC Freshman of the Week after two wins on the mound and a .526 (10-for-19) average during UK’s 5-0 week.

Kentucky has been paced by the most prolific offense in the nation, as UK enters the week ranked as the NCAA leader in on-base percentage (.433), ranking fifth in slugging (.497), third in OPS (.930), fifth in runs scored (172), seventh in hits (235), 10th in doubles (47), sixth in total bases (351) and second in hit batters (43). UK has the No. 4 overall RPI in the nation according to the latest projections on BoydsWorld.com.

The Wildcats have hit a league-leading .333 as a team, with 21 homers through 21 games, stealing 24 bases. On the mound, UK has a 2.95 ERA, with five saves in 189 innings, striking out 200. UK is fielding at a .978 clip, ranking third-best in the SEC.

Individually, UK has been led by a host of hot bats, including outfielder Zac Zellers’ team-high .393 average, adding six doubles, one triple, three homers and 11 RBI. Reed has hit .386 with seven doubles, two homers and a club-best 28 RBI. Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino owns a .382 average with nine doubles, one triple, one homer and 14 RBI, while catcher Luke Maile owns a .360 mark with five doubles, five homers and 27 RBI, anchoring the middle of the lineup. Reed currently leads the lineup with a 12-game hitting streak.

On the mound, UK’s weekend rotation of Taylor Rogers (4-0, 4.03 ERA), Jerad Grundy (3-0, 2.73 ERA) and Corey Littrell (2-0, 2.45 ERA) has thrived through five starts. In the bullpen, UK has been paced by a pair of dominating right-handers, with Tim Peterson (2-0, 0.87 ERA) appearing in a club-best 11 games, striking out 16 and allowing only six hits in 10.1 innings. Trevor Gott (1-0, 2.08 ERA) has five saves in 10 relief outings, striking out 16 in 8.2 innings. Junior Walter Wijas (2-0, 4.97 ERA), left-hander Alex Phillies (2-0, 2.40 ERA) and lefty Sam Mahar (0-0, 1.93 ERA) have each appeared in at least eight games.

Cincinnati (8-9, 0-0 Big East) has hit .282 as a team through 17 games, with eight homers, a 63-136 walk-strikeout ratio and 30 stolen bases. On the mound, UC has a 3.89 ERA as a staff, with four saves in 155 innings, walking 55 and striking out 134, fielding .973 as a club. The Bearcats have played some Big Ten programs, facing Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Michigan State through the early non-conference slate.

Individually, UC has been paced at the plate by Justin Glass, who owns a .408 average with five doubles, eight RBI and nine steals. Joey Bielek has hit .373 with seven doubles, and 13 RBI, while Jake Proctor has a .284 average with two homers and a team-leading 18 RBI, stealing eight bags.

In the bullpen, Thomas Gentile (1-0, 1.64 ERA) has appeared in six games with 25 strikeouts in 22 innings. Zach Isler (0-1, 2.00 ERA) leads the club with eight relief outings, saving three games in nine innings, walking four and striking out 10. Cory Hough (0-0, 1.50 ERA) has appeared in seven games in relief, with Jason Pascuzzi (0-0, 2.16 ERA) and Matthew Lathuras (0-0, 5.87 ERA) each making six relief outings.

In the meeting last year, UK posted a 4-2 win, as the Wildcats plated single runs in the second and fifth innings for a 2-1 lead. UK added two runs in the bottom of the eighth for a 4-1 lead, with UC plating a run in the ninth and brining on UK’s Braden Kapteyn to close the game with three strikeouts. UK started Littrell, who worked six innings, allowing eight hits and one run, walking two and striking out four. Thomas Gentile started for UC< going six innings, allowing six hits and two runs, walking four with four strikeouts. UK was led at the plate by Riddle, who went 3-for-4, with Williams adding a 3-for-4 game with a triple and double.

Gary Henderson Press Conference -- 3/20/12

HENDERSON PRESS CONFERENCE

Opening Statement…
“First and foremost, I’d like to thank our fans. The weekend we just got done with was outstanding. It was fun, our kids loved it and we hope our fans enjoyed it. It was good for our program and we are glad the weather cooperated. There is a lot of energy out there as we go on the road for the next two weekends but when we get back, we’d love to see that place full again. We will do a good job on the road for the fans and make it easy for the fans to come back out in three weekends. We are off to a good start and we are excited about it. We have had a lot of things go our way. He have a lot of things to continue to work hard at and get better at, so that’s what we will do. We are excited to go play Cincinnati tomorrow night, then head down to Knoxville for the second weekend of the conference season. That is where we are with our schedule.”

On whether Henderson is surprised on the way the season has started…
“I’ve gotten that a lot, and my answer is always ‘when the season starts I never plan on 21 wins in a row but your hoping to go out and play the first weekend well’. I thought we would be vastly improved and tougher with more depth. I thought we would be better defensively but didn’t know we would be quite as good defensively as we have been for the most part. I know that is a long answer, but I am pleasantly surprised.”

On what this year’s team has that the top-5 recruiting class of 2008 did not have…
“Can you imagine how many nights I’ve thought about that? I was in this room several years ago, and somebody asked Coach Rich Brooks about recruiting classes and he said, ‘get back to me in three years  and I’ll let you know how good they were.’ I have never forgotten that. More specifically, to answer your question, I’d say our group right now has a very good feel for the game and have a very good level of toughness and competitive spirit. How that compares to the 2008 group, I am not sure 100 percent sure. One thing we don’t have is Alex’s (Meyer) arm, which was a special arm and a little bit different to be a part of and was fun. We have more depth now than when those kids were here.”

On why Kentucky is so successful in the late innings of recent games…
“Well, when you look at one particular series, you can get on a roll and things start going your way. Line drives for bad guys are caught and the bloopers for the good guys fall in and those things just happen. I thought we pitched with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence out of the bullpen. Anytime when you pitch 10 1/3 innings in three games out of the bullpen and they don’t score, it is more than just luck. We did a good job with that over the weekend. To this point, we have had a tremendous sense of calm in the close games and I believe it is seven or eight one-run wins. I have been in baseball for a long enough time to know those things can turn on you, but to this point we have been poised in close games late.”

On the new additions of A.J. Reed and Zac Zellers…
“They have been great additions. They are different type talents and different type personalities. Both are very beneficial to have on a club. Zac is confident and tough as well as skilled. A.J. has a great feel for the game especially for an 18-year old. He benefits from being a two-way player. One of the benefits of a two-way player is understanding the difficulty of doing the other aspects of the sports more so than the guy who is just a position player or just a pitcher only. Both have been very, very good additions to our offense, are good kids and are fun to be around.”

On Luke Maile’s approach to the plate and how it has affected the entire team…
“It has done a lot. It was getting goofy there for a little bit in terms of when he was finally going to strike out. I don’t remember the total number of at-bats but it got a little extreme for the first part of the season. His ratio is fantastic. He has walked 13 times and struck out four times. You’re not going to see that very often. He has done a very good job of identifying the strike zone. He recognizes off-speed early. He has worked very hard to improve all aspects of his game and brings a lot of confidence into the batter’s box that has influenced other guys, there is no question about that. His presence in the box screams confidence. He had a very good January and February in inter-squad games, and then when the games started in the middle of February he didn’t have the best rhythm. He was coming through and producing the first two weeks but he was clearly not at his best and he fought through that and came out the other side very well.”

On spreading playing time to the numerous outfielders…
“It is a very good problem to have and it is a challenge. You are looking to get the guys that are either fourth or fifth on that list enough time so they are good when you need them. You want to do the best job you can to give everyone an opportunity to play that deserves one. It is my responsibility to everyone in the program to put your best players on the field and give your team the best chance to win. The dilemma that coaches everywhere have is whether to give one guy an at-bat if he hasn’t played in weeks or go with the guy that is hot and gives you the best chance to win. As a baseball coach, you hope to provide enough of a cushion after four or five innings to give the other guy an opportunity to play. We haven’t had a lot of those opportunities this year since we have played a lot of close games, which there is some benefit of that,  but the challenge is exactly what you would think it  would be. We have to get everyone as many at-bats as we can, after we have done everything we can to win.”

On the non-conference schedule’s affect on sweeping South Carolina in the first SEC series…
“I wanted to give us the best chance to get comfortable. You don’t have a crystal ball, you just do the best you can. It worked in that we were able to get some confidence, have a lot of players play and we won some close games. Would it have been different if we had an additional weekend on the road? I don’t know. Through the first 18 home games, the kids have done everything we have asked and we have gotten into a position where we are ready to play.

On skyrocketing in the polls…
“I haven’t seen any of our kids yet, just six pitchers who came to watch film in the last two days. We haven’t met with the club but we will do that this afternoon. They will hear my thoughts on how to proceed and I think it is a nice place to be but they do not hand out regional bids based on what your record is in the middle of March. They don’t give you an opportunity to host anything yet. We have to move forward in a respectful manner of the game. I was fortunate to play on really good college teams, I was not a particularly talented player but I got to play and I loved to play. As a junior we were 28-28 then as a senior we went 52-8. We won 24 games in a row and I learned a lot of things during that time in terms of how to handle those things that weren’t important and how to handle things that were important. I told our kids there are more distractions and challenges in their lives than there ever have been in collegiate athletics. Moving forward, we will trust try to do a good job in handling tomorrow night’s ballgame at Cincinnati before we do anything else.

On how the veterans are handling the early success…
“I am not concerned with them. They are very respectful of what baseball is and how easy or how difficult the game can be at times. One of the benefits you have with guys who have been through rough patch in their career is that they never take anything for granted. At this point, I think this is a very accurate reflection of our group. They haven’t taken anything for granted. How they have gone about their work is tremendous. They are not giddy and they are not expecting anything to come their way that they haven’t had to earn in the past or future. At this point in time, I am confident that they are grounded. People around them get excited and rightfully so but it my staff’s job to keep them and let them understand tomorrow is going to be a dogfight at Cincinnati.”

On how J.T. Riddle has handled moving from outfield to second base…
He would’ve played a lot more at second base last season if Neiko (Johnson) hadn’t broken his hand. That is just the way it goes. J.T. had a bunch of work early in the season before we had to move him into right field. His arms strength at second base gives him the ability to turn double plays. His athleticism at second base has allowed us to do things at the position that we haven’t been able to do in a long time.

On Brian Adams playing football or baseball…
“Brian is with us. I talked to (football head coach) Joker Phillips and Brian about four weeks ago and as far as I know he is proceeding with both baseball and football. I would expect Phillips and Adams to meet sometime soon and I will visit with them then.”

On Thomas McCarthy being a second-half player…
“Thomas is hitting .240. He has clearly hit better than that from what it has looked like but he is not hitting .340. He has had more line drives caught that has deserved to at this point but he certainly has not found his rhythm that he had when he hit .400 overall as a freshman and last year. I suspect he will get hot going forward. My hope is that he starts relaxing, seeing the ball and swinging at strings because once he starts doing those things more efficiently he is going to take off.”

On going on the road…
“I don’t know yet. We are going to find out, no question. What you hope is that your guys handle it maturely. I don’t suspect we are going to have any problems. Our guys aren’t giddy, that just isn’t our personality. I am not saying we won’t have any bumps in the road but our guys are very respectful of what it takes to be successful. They have a good time, we have a very good sense of humor on our club, but we have a toughness and competitiveness spirit that leads me to believe we will not get giddy on the road. There will be challenges ahead no question. There are many times in our league when we play in front of a bunch of people that are less than complimentary of you and your heritage but that is one thing that makes our league such a wonderful experience for our kids."

Records
Kentucky – 21-0, 3-0 SEC
Cincinnati – 8-9, 0-0 Big East

Rankings
Kentucky: No. 2 (Collegiate Baseball), No. 6 (USA Today/ESPN coaches), No. 13 (NCBWA), No. 16 (Baseball America)
Cincinnati: not ranked

Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change) – Cincinnati, Ohio
Wednesday, March 21 * at Cincinnati * 4 p.m.

Radio (UK IMG Radio Network with Dick Gabriel)
Wednesday: WGVN 1580-AM in Lexington, online at UKathletics.com

Internet Coverage
Live audio and stats on UKathletics.com

Tentative Pitching Matchups
Wednesday at Cincinnati
Fr., RHP Chandler Shepherd (1-0, 3.10 ERA) vs. TBA


 

 

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