Baseball Hosts No. 30 Auburn in Three-Game Set
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After exploding for 15 runs in a midweek win over Xavier, the Kentucky baseball team returns to the Southeastern Conference grind, hosting defending SEC Western Division Champion, No. 30 Auburn in a three-game series, with first pitch of game one set for 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
All 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 games live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM, in addition to coverage on UKathletics.com. The game on Sunday will be televised live on CSS, with Matt Stewart and Rusty Ensor calling the action.
The series will be presented by weekend sponsor, The Kentucky Center for Orthodontics. The Kentucky Center for Orthodontics will hand out UK Benchmark Sponsor logo mouse pads before the Friday game. In addition, fans can enjoy Ice Cream Sundaes at the ballpark on Sunday and can take part in SEC Autograph Sunday’s following the series finale on Sunday. Weather permitting, kids can enjoy the inflatable games down the third base line. Before the Friday game, UK men’s basketball student assistant coach and potential NBA lottery draft pick Enes Kanter, will be on hand to throw out the first pitch.
Kentucky (16-14, 2-7 SEC) is coming off a 15-run outburst on Tuesday, as the Wildcats posted a 15-2 win over Xavier, riding a career-high five RBI game from third baseman Thomas McCarthy. McCarthy hit his third homer of the year, Luke Maile belted his first career grand slam and centerfielder Brian Adams hit his first home run of the season. The Wildcats got a strong start from Jordan Cooper, who went five innings, allowing two runs and striking out six.
UK will turn to the same weekend rotation from the series last weekend at No. 3 South Carolina. UK will turn to junior right-hander Alex Meyer (3-4, 3.10 ERA) on Friday, facing off with Auburn right-hander Andrew Morris (1-2, 5.03 ERA). On Saturday, UK freshman southpaw Corey Littrell (4-1, 4.82 ERA) will make his second career SEC start vs. Auburn junior righty Derek Varnadore (3-1, 3.38 ERA). On Sunday, UK will start sophomore southpaw Taylor Rogers (2-3, 5.05 ERA), with the Tigers yet to announce a starting pitcher for the finale.
A 6-foot-9, 220-pounder, Meyer will be making his eighth weekend start of the year against the Tigers on Friday. A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer leads the SEC in strikeouts, fanning 62 in 49.1 innings pitched, allowing only 36 hits and a .214 opponent batting average. Meyer is coming off his second complete-game outing of the year last weekend at South Carolina, where he tossed eight innings in a 3-1 loss at the defending NCAA Champions, striking out eight. A junior-college transfer Morris has been used primarily in relief this year, pitching in eight games with two starts. In his eight games, Morris has tossed 19.2 innings, walking eight and striking out 14. Morris made the start on Friday night vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt, going three innings, allowing nine hits and three runs.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Littrell was named Louisville Slugger Kentucky High School Player of the Year in 2010 out of Trinity High School. Through his first nine career outings, Littrell has made six starts and totaled 37.1 innings, striking out 28. A 6-3, 190-pound southpaw, Littrell has excelled in his six starts, owning a 4-0 record and a 2.91 ERA in his starts, tossing 34 innings with 10 walks and 22 strikeouts. In his three relief outings, Littrell has a 0-1 record and a 24.30 ERA, allowing 10 runs in 3.1 innings in relief. Littrell is coming off his first-career SEC start last Saturday vs. the Gamecocks. Littrell was great in his start in Columbia, S.C., going six innings and allowing two runs for his fifth quality start of the year. Varnadore has been AU’s most consistent starter this year, making seven starts and tossing a team-high 45.1 innings, striking out 46 with only 10 walks. In his last start vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt, Varnadore tossed 5.1 innings, allowing only one earned run, walking three and striking out five.
Rogers, a 6-3, 170-pound southpaw, has made seven weekend starts for UK this season, totaling 41 innings, walking only seven with 33 strikeouts. A native of Littleton, Colo., Rogers owns four quality starts this season. In his last start on Sunday, Rogers went 6.1 innings, allowing six hits and two earned runs, walking three and striking out five in a 4-1 loss at USC. Last weekend vs. No. 1 Vandy, Auburn starter Jon Luke Jacobs and used Cory Luckie – the 2010 Auburn Friday-night starter – in relief.
Auburn (15-14, 2-7 SEC) enters the series having lost seven of its last eight games, including a six-game losing streak in league action. The Tigers, who won the SEC Western Division last year behind a lineup full of sluggers, have hit .300 as a team through 29 games, belting 17 homers and stealing 21 bases. On the mound, AU has totaled a 5.00 ERA as a team with eight saves, striking out 211 through 262.2 innings, fielding .965 as a club.
Individually, the Tigers have been paced by shortstop Casey McElroy, who has hit .353 with 10 doubles, four homers and 25 RBI. Dan Gamache has batted .343 with nine doubles, two homers and 21 RBI, while Wes Gilmer has added a .333 average with 18 RBI. Second baseman Justin Hargett has batted .305 with 16 RBI and outfielder Justin Fradejas has hit .299 with a homer and eight RBI. Creede Simpson has hit .271 with eight RBI, while catcher/outfielder Tony Caldwell has batted .268 with three homers and 12 RBI. Slugger Kevin Patterson returns as one of the more feared lefty hitters in the league a year ago, batting .253 with 10 doubles, four homers and 21 RBI.
In the bullpen, Ethan Wallen (1-3, 3.08 ERA) has appeared in a team-high 13 games with four saves and 22 punchouts in 26.1 innings. Zach Blatt (1-2, 7.04 ERA) has appeared in 10 games with two saves and 14 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. Sidearm reliever Sean Ray (1-1, 6.08 ERA) has a save and eight strikeouts in 13.1 innings.
The Wildcats have been led offensively by freshman J.T. Riddle, the reigning Kentucky High School Mr. Baseball out of Frankfort’s Western Hills High School. A 6-3, 180-pounder, Riddle has hit .338 through his first 25 career games, totaling two homers and 15 RBI. Junior outfielder Chad Wright has batted .330 with eight doubles, three homers and 21 RBI, stealing 13 bases and totaling a team-high .486 slugging percentage. Adams has batted .329 with eight doubles, one homer and 11 RBI, stealing seven bases, while McCarthy has hit .304 with 10 doubles, one triple, three homers and 16 RBI, swiping seven bags. Braden Kapteyn leads UK in RBI, batting .325 with three homers and 27 RBI, while senior shortstop Taylor Black has hit .317 with nine doubles, two triples, one homer and 19 RBI, stealing nine bases. Maile has added a .290 average with three homers, 21 RBI and eight doubles.
In the bullpen, UK sophomore righty Walter Wijas (3-1, 1.19 ERA) and lefty Alex Phillips (1-1, 2.51 ERA) have each appeared in a team-high 13 games, with Wijas hurling a bullpen-high 22.2 innings. Freshman righty Trevor Gott (1-3, 0.47 ERA) has appeared in 12 games with one save and 22 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. Senior Mike Kaczmarek (0-0, 2.16 ERA) ranks as the team leader with four saves in 11 games, while Nick Kennedy (0-0, 2.61 ERA) has appeared in 12 games in relief. Kapteyn (0-1, 5.11 ERA) has two saves in his nine relief outings, striking out 22 and walking only two in his 12.1 innings. In his career, Kapteyn has a 7-1 record and eight saves.
Auburn leads the overall series with UK, 70-40, including a 30-20 mark in games played in Lexington. UK has won four of the last seven meetings in the series, despite falling in two of three games at Auburn in 2010. Last year, UK fell in the series opener at Auburn – ranked No. 29 – 13-6. The Tigers got nine runs off UK starter Logan Darnell, who went 6.1 innings, also plating four runs off Wijas. UK got three hits from Lance Ray and a homer from Kapteyn – a line-drive shot at the opposite-field foul pole. AU started Luckie, who went 5.2 innings and allowed four runs. The 2010 AU closer, Austin Hubbard, got the save, going 3.1 innings to close out the game. In the second game of the series, played in nine innings on Sunday as part of a doubleheader, UK posted an 8-7 win in a thrilling contest. UK started Jordan Cooper in the game as Meyer had been diagnosed with mononucleosis, shaking up the UK rotation. Cooper went three innings and allowed three runs, with UK closer Matt Little picking up the win with four innings without allowed an earned run. After UK fell behind 2-1 heading to the fourth inning, the Wildcats plated three runs in the top of the eighth inning to take the lead and hold on for the win. In the finale, played in seven innings, UK took a 5-4 lead with a run in the top of the seventh inning, before AU got a walk-off, two-out hit from 2010 SEC Player of the Year Hunter Morris in the bottom of the seventh. Overall in the series, Keenan Wiley led UK with a .545 average and two RBI, but Ray provided UK’s punch, doubling five times in the series with one homer and six RBI, while Gunner Glad hit .417 with a homer and two RBI.
UK will utilize two lots: the C8 lot behind Shively Sports Center, and brand-new Parking Structure 7 on the corner of Complex Drive and Jerry Claiborne Way. Both 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.
Fans should not use the university “R” lots adjacent to the dorms or on the south side of Nutter Training Facility. These lots are patrolled by the university 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Fans that park in these lots may be ticketed or towed. Plenty of parking will be available in the C8 and PS7 lots.
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