NASHVILLE -- After winning two consecutive games, including a 12-3 win in the series finale with No. 19 Ole Miss, the 24th-ranked Kentucky baseball team will return to Southeastern Conference play, traveling to face No. 20 Vanderbilt in a three-game set, beginning Friday at 7 p.m. ET at Charles Hawkins Field.
Kentucky (16-5, 1-2 SEC) dropped its first SEC series of the year last weekend to Ole Miss, falling in games one and two, before rebounding with a win Sunday. In the midweek, the Wildcats notched an 11-6 win over defending Atlantic 10 Conference champion Xavier. The series with Vanderbilt kicks off a stretch of UK facing a ranked opponent in 19 of the next 20 games, including a stretch of facing 16 consecutive ranked foes.
The games will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with Dick Gabriel calling the action. Friday and Sunday’s games will be broadcast live in Lexington on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM. Saturday’s contest will be broadcast live in Lexington on WGVN 1580-AM. All three contests can be heard live on UKathletics.com
UK suffered a 9-0 setback in the SEC opener last Friday night, as Ole Miss lefty Drew Pomeranz turned in a dominating performance. Saturday, UK fell behind 7-2 before mounting a late-inning rally, plating four runs in the bottom of the eighth to make it 7-6. UK’s bottom of the ninth inning charge fell short, as Lance Ray flied out as the game-tying run at the plate. In UK’s eighth-inning rally Saturday, UK got a three-run homer from Cory Farris and a solo homer from Ray, but the heroics came from Ole Miss centerfielder Tim Ferguson, who skied the wall in left-centerfield, robbing UK’s Chad Wright of what wound-up as the game-tying run and Wright’s third homer of the year. Sunday, UK bounced back with a 12-3 win, getting two homers and a career-high six RBI from Kapteyn and 10 punchouts from Alex Meyer in 6.2 frames.
The Wildcats will turn to junior southpaw Logan Darnell (3-1, 3.09 ERA) on Friday night to face off with Commodore ace sophomore right-hander Sonny Gray (3-2, 2.73 ERA). Darnell is coming off his first loss of the season in his first career SEC start, getting outdueled by Pomeranz in a six-inning effort. Gray, a 5-foot-11 fire-baller, is considered a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft and is rated by Baseball America as the best prospect in the SEC and as having the best fastball and breaking ball in the conference. In 33 innings, Gray has allowed only 23 hits and 13 walks, striking out 33. Darnell has posted quality starts in four of five outings, striking out 29 in 35 frames, issuing just nine walks.
Saturday, UK will start freshman southpaw Taylor Rogers (3-1, 4.75 ERA) in his second career SEC start, a week after suffering his first career loss to Ole Miss. Rogers will face off with Vanderbilt junior right-hander Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.90 ERA) Saturday. Hill, a 6-foot-3, 222-pounder, has totaled 31 innings in five starts and six appearances, tossing 31 innings, allowing 36 hits, eight walks and striking out 226. Rogers, who won SEC Freshman of the Week the first week of the season, has hurled quality starts in four of five starts, tossing 30.1 innings, walking just eight and striking out 14. In his last outing, Rogers allowed three Ole Miss runs in the top of the first inning, before settling down to hurl six shutout innings, with the UK bullpen inheriting two runners with one out in the eighth inning, allowing both runners to score and bump up his runs allowed to five.
Sunday, UK sophomore right-hander Alex Meyer (4-2, 6.51 ERA) will make his sixth start of the season, fresh off his first career SEC win Sunday against Ole Miss. Meyer, a 6-foot-9, 220-pounder, fanned a season-high 10 hitters Sunday, allowing three runs in 6.2 innings. Meyer opened his last outing strong, retiring the first eight hitters he faced. Meyer will face off with Vanderbilt sophomore right-hander Jack Armstrong (3-0, 3.16 ERA). Armstrong, a 6-foot-6, 226-pounder has made five starts this season, hurling 25.2 innings, allowing 30 hits and 15 runs, walking 11 and striking out 17. A native of Jupiter, Fla., Armstrong is coming off an all-star campaign in the Cape Cod League during the summer, where he went 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA, striking out 31 in 35 innings for Warham, with his four wins leading the league.
Vanderbilt (18-4, 1-2 SEC) lost its opening series in conference play on the road at No. 21 Alabama, but posted wins in two midweek games, dominating results, with the Commodores winning 10-4 Tuesday against Lipscomb and 18-2 Wednesday against Wright State.
The Commodores have been led offensively by junior infielder Bryan Johns, who leads the team with a .414 (29-for-70) average, adding six doubles and 11 RBI. All-SEC shortstop Brian Harris has added a .379 (22-for-58) average with a homer, 12 RBI and an eye-popping and league-leading 23 walks to just seven strikeouts, leading the league with 13 hit by pitches and a .604 on-base percentage. Talented freshman third baseman Jason Esposito has a team-high nine doubles, with four homers and a team-best 23 RBI, stealing 10-of-12 bases. Slugger Aaron Westlake, the 2009 SEC batting title champion (.377) has added a .333 (26-for-78) average with seven doubles, four homers and 21 RBI, while catcher Andrew Giobbi has hit for a .274 (23-for-84) average, with two homers and 18 RBI. Rightfielder Joe Loftus has added a .253 (19-for-75) mark with three homers and 12 RBI, while infielder Riley Reynolds has hit .216 (11-for-51) with five RBI and 14 walks. Freshman second baseman Anthony Gomez has posted startling numbers as well, hitting for a .595 (25-for-42) average with five doubles, nine RBI, one walk and one strikeout in 16 games and eight starts.
In the bullpen, right-hander closer Russell Brewer leads the team with three saves in 11.1 innings, allowing just seven hits, one walk, striking out 12 and allowing a .171 opponent average. Drew Hayes (1-0, 4.91 ERA), Rickie Goodenow (1-0, 2.25 ERA) and Corey Williams (1-0, 2.31 ERA) all lead the team with eight appearances each.
UK has been led offensively by preseason All-American second baseman Chris Bisson, who leads the team with a .390 (23-for-59) average, adding two homers and 14 RBI. Senior centerfielder Keenan Wiley has hit .351 (26-for-74) with four doubles, three homers, 17 RBI, seven walks and just five strikeouts, stealing 5-of-7 bases. Wright has contributed a .341 (29-for-85) average, with five doubles, two homers and a team-high 19 RBI. Farris leads the team with six homers in 13 games, adding 16 RBI. Senior Gunner Glad has hit .329 (25-for-76) with two homers and 15 RBI, while Braden Kapteyn has added a .309 (21-for-68) average with six doubles, three homers and 15 RBI. Junior shortstop Taylor Black has hit .259 (14-for-54) with a homer and 12 RBI, catcher Marcus Nidiffer has batted .250 (13-for-52) with three homers and 21 RBI and sophomore third baseman Andy Burns has hit for a .244 (20-for-82) average with four doubles, four homers and 10 RBI, leading the team with 11 walks. Neiko Johnson leads the team and the SEC with 15 steals in 15 attempts.
In the bullpen for the Wildcats, junior right-handed reliever Matt Little has solidified himself as one of the top arms in the nation, leading UK with four saves in nine appearances, posting a 1-0 record and a 0.48 ERA. Little has tossed 18.2 innings, allowing only six hits and one run, walking just five and striking out 27. Little has not allowed a run in 14.1 consecutive innings, dating back to his second career appearance against Bowling Green on the last weekend of February. UK has also used Kapteyn as a late-inning reliever, with the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder totaled a 1-0 record and a 0.00 ERA in five relief appearances, allowing six hits and striking out six. Junior right-hander Nick Kennedy has appeared in four games in relief, totaling a 1-0 record and a 0.90 ERA, striking out 13 in 10 innings.
UK leads the series with Vanderbilt 70-47-1, trailing 60-68-4 all-time in Nashville. The Wildcats have played well against Vandy the last few times out winning four of the last five meetings. Last year, UK won the series with wins on Friday and Saturday, dropping the series sweep Sunday. In 2008 in Nashville, UK won the series as well, claiming wins Saturday and Sunday.
Last season against Vandy, UK got a dynamic pitching performance in one of the top pitching matchups in all of college baseball, as James Paxton outdueled fellow first round pick Mike Minor, with Paxton fanning 10 in 6.2 innings, allowing only two hits. Minor went seven innings and allowed three runs, with just three strikeouts. UK used Darnell in relief, with the lefty going 2.1 shutout innings, allowing just one hit and one walk. In the Saturday game, UK senior Chris Rusin silenced the Vandy bats in a 6-2 UK win, with Rusin going a complete-game, allowing seven hits, two runs, walking two and striking out 11. Sunday, UK dropped a 4-2 result, with Vandy erasing UK’s 2-1 lead with two runs in the top of the sixth, holding on for a 4-2 win. Meyer got the start and walked five in three innings, allowing just two hits and one run. Darnell, Kapteyn and Clint Tilford pitched in relief, with Darnell hurling 1.1 shutout innings. Overall in the series, Wright hit .500 (5-for-10, Glad batted .429 (3-for-7), Bisson hit .417 (5-for-12) and Wiley batted .300 (3-for-10).
UK moved around in the polls after last week, ranking No. 21 in the Rivals/Yahoo! Sports poll, No. 26 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top 30 and No. 24 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll. UK fell out of the Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper weekly polls.
In the SEC stats, UK leads the league in hit by pitches (54), ranking second in the conference in home runs (29), also leading the league in stolen bases (42). On the mound, UK ranks seventh in the SEC in ERA (3.97), leading the SEC defensively in assists (267), ranking second in the SEC in chances (864) and double plays (25).
Individually in the SEC stats, Bisson ranks eighth in the SEC in average (.390) and 12th in on-base percentage (.478). Farris ranks sixth in the league in homers (six), with Black ranking second in the SEC in hit by pitches (12). On the mound, Darnell ranks tops in the SEC in innings pitched (35.0), with Rogers ranking sixth (30.1). Meyer ranks third in the league in strikeouts (36), ranking second in strikeouts looking (13). Little ranks third in the league with four saves and second in games finished (eight). Defensively, Glad ranks first in the league in double plays (22), third in the SEC in chances (184) and putouts (165), with Black leading the SEC in assists (69).
Kentucky – 16-5, 1-2 SEC
Vanderbilt – 18-4, 1-2 SEC
• Gary Henderson (San Diego State, 1984)
• 44-31 (.587) – second year
• Tim Corbin (Ohio Wesleyan, 1984)
• 400-299 (.572) – 13th year
• No. 24 (USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll)
• No. 21 (Rivals.com/Yahoo! Sports)
• No. 26 (NCBWA)
• Not ranked (Baseball America)
• Not ranked (Collegiate Baseball Newspaper)
• No. 20 (USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll)
• No. 24 (Baseball America)
• No. 23 (Collegiate Baseball Newspaper)
• No. 23 (NCBWA)
Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change) -- Nashville, Tenn.
Friday, March 26 * at No. 20 Vanderbilt * 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 27 * at No. 20 Vanderbilt * 3 p.m.
Sunday, March 28 * at No. 20 Vanderbilt * 2 p.m.
Radio (BBSN with Dick Gabriel)
• WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
• WGVN 1580-AM in Lexington
• WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
Live audio and stats on UKathletics.com
Tentative Pitching Matchups
Friday vs. Vanderbilt
LHP Logan Darnell (3-1, 3.09 ERA) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (3-2, 2.73 ERA)
Saturday vs. Vanderbilt
LHP Taylor Rogers (3-1, 4.75 ERA) vs. RHP Taylor Hill (3-1, 2.90 ERA)
Sunday vs. Vanderbilt
RHP Alex Meyer (4-2, 6.51 ERA) vs. RHP Jack Armstrong (3-0, 3.16 ERA)
Charles Hawkins Field (3,700)