Baseball Faces LSU as ESPN Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Coming off a series win over No. 12 Arkansas and a midweek win over rival Louisville, the Kentucky baseball team hits the road, traveling to face tradition-rich LSU in a three-game set, with first pitch of game one on Thursday set for 7:30 p.m. ET at Alex Box Stadium. Game two on Friday is set for 8 p.m. ET and the finale on Saturday is slated for 2 p.m. ET.
The series marks Kentucky's first appearance on the inaugural ESPN Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week. The Thursday-night game will be televised live on ESPNU on Thursday, with Dave Neal and Kyle Peterson calling the action. The game on Friday will be televised by Cox Sports Television. All three games will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the games live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky (20-22, 4-14 Southeastern Conference) is coming off a 7-1 win on Tuesday night over Big East power Louisville, with the win handing the Wildcats a series sweep over the Cardinals, the first sweep for either team since the 2006 season, the year UK claimed the SEC Championship. UK got a solid starting pitching performance from sophomore righty Jordan Cooper (3-1, 4.37 ERA), who hurled his fifth quality start of the year, allowing no earned runs in 6.2 frames.
During the weekend, UK battled rain and the red-hot No. 12 Razorbacks, picking up the first series win over Arkansas since the 2005 season, with UK falling a five-inning game shy of sweeping Arkansas for the first time in program history. UK posted a 3-2 win in the series opener, picking up a 3-1 win in the second game to clinch the series, before rain and the SEC travel curfew called the finale short in the bottom of the sixth inning with UK owning the game-tying run on deck in a 5-1 loss.
UK will turn to its weekend rotation of junior right-hander Alex Meyer on Thursday, freshman southpaw Corey Littrell on Friday and sophomore southpaw Taylor Rogers on Saturday. LSU will use right-hander Kurt McCune (5-3, 3.39 ERA) on Thursday, with 2011 sixth-round MLB Draft pick Kevin Gausman (2-5, 4.73 ERA) going on Friday and right-hander Ben Alsup (5-4, 3.93 ERA) set to start the finale.
A native of Greensburg, Ind., Meyer will be making his 11th weekend start of the year. The 6-foot-9, 220-pounder is the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week after hurling his league-best third complete game of the year in a win over No. 12 Arkansas, striking out 10 and allowing only three hits. Meyer leads the SEC with 81 strikeouts in 71.2 innings, ranking second in the league in innings pitched. Meyer has allowed only 57 hits in his 71.2 innings, with opponents hitting .230 and only 10 of his 57 hits allowed going as extra-base knocks. Meyer has started two games against LSU in his career, including his first career SEC appearance at the new Alex Box Stadium in 2009. In that start, Meyer went five innings of a seven-inning game, allowing only two hits and three runs, walking five and striking out six in a hard-luck 3-1 loss, exiting to a standing ovation to the LSU patrons. In his start vs. LSU last year, Meyer lasted one inning, allowing two hits and four walks, striking out two. In his career, Meyer owns 224 strikeouts in 182.1 innings, ranking seventh in UK career history in punchouts. LSU will turn to McCune for the series opener, with the righty making his 11th start. In 63.2 innings, McCune has allowed only 46 hits and 19 walks, striking out 47, with opponents hitting a staggering .200 off the righty.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Littrell will be making his 10th start of the year on Friday. Littrell has tossed 52.2 innings, allowing only 18 walks and striking out 39. In his last start, Littrell turned in a great outing despite battling a nearly 19-hour rain delay in between his third and fourth innings of work. Littrell finished one out shy of his sixth quality start, going 5.2 innings and allowing only three hits and one run, walking two and striking out four against Arkansas. LSU will counter with Gausman, the prized recruit in college baseball in 2011 and a sixth-round pick out of high school. Gausman has started 10 games in 2011, owning 59 innings, 18 walks and 54 strikeouts.
A 6-3, 170-pound native of Littleton, Colo., Rogers has started 10 weekend games for UK in 2011, owning 59.1 innings and only 11 walks, striking out 41. Rogers is coming off a tough-luck loss vs. Arkansas in the five-inning contest, allowing five runs in six innings, striking out three. Rogers has made one career start vs. LSU, the Friday-night contest in 2010. Rogers went 3.1 innings, allowing 10 hits and nine runs, walking one and striking out three in a duel with Anthony Ranaudo. LSU will turn to Alsup for the start, the senior righty. Alsup has tossed 52.2 innings in 2011, allowing 56 hits and 20 walks, striking out 34.
The Wildcats have been led offensively by senior shortstop Taylor Black, who has hit .333 with 13 doubles, two triples, two homers and 28 RBI, stealing 10 bases. Braden Kapteyn has batted .331 with six homers and 39 RBI, while Chad Wright has hit .323 with 11 doubles, four homers and 28 RBI, stealing a team-best 14 bases. Freshman J.T. Riddle has played second and rightfield for UK, batting .315 with eight doubles, three homers, 23 RBI and six steals. Thomas McCarthy leads the SEC in doubles with 15, adding four homers and 23 RBI, batting .314 with eight steals. Centerfielder and scholarship wide receiver Brian Adams has hit .302 with eight doubles, two homers and 12 RBI, stealing eight bags. Adams just stared in the spring football game, catching a game-high seven balls for 121 yards and two touchdowns, before starting in centerfield vs. Arkansas immediately after the football game. UK's two-headed catching tandem, Luke Maile and Michael Williams has been good throughout the year, with Maile leading UK with seven homers, adding eight doubles and 28 RBI and Williams hitting .274 with nine doubles, four homers and 15 RBI.
In the bullpen, UK has been led by freshman right-hander Trevor Gott (2-4, 1.82 ERA), who owns two saves and 31 strikeouts in 24.2 innings. Lefty Alex Phillips (1-1, 2.08 ERA) has appeared in a team-best 21 games, walking only one in 26 frames. Walter Wijas (3-0, 3.67 ERA), Nick Kennedy (0-1, 4.35 ERA), Mike Kaczmarek (0-0, 6.94 ERA) and Kapteyn (0-2, 7.24 ERA) have each appeared in 10 or more games in 2011, with Kaczmarek owning a club-best four saves and Kapteyn adding two. Despite battling injury, freshman righty Jonathan Paquet (0-0, 4.76 ERA) has appeared in four games with three starts, striking out 10 in 11.1 innings.
LSU (25-17, 4-14 SEC) enters the series coming off a series sweep at the hands of No. 3 Vanderbilt in Nashville last weekend and a 12-3 midweek win over Nicholls State on Tuesday. The Tigers started the year strong with an 11-0 record to open the year, ranking as high as No. 5 nationally and owning a 16-1 record entering conference play.
The Tigers have hit .289 as a team with 27 homers and 69 stolen bases, posting a .965 fielding percentage. On the mound, LSU owns a 4.42 team ERA, with seven saves, 138 walks and 298 strikeouts in 366.2 innings.
LSU has been led by All-America outfielder Mikie Mahtook, who owns a .364 average, a league-leading 10 homers, adding 41 RBI and 24 stolen bases. Mahtook has posted 32 walks and 26 strikeouts, adding nine doubles and three triples. Raph Rhymes has hit .344 with two homers and 31 RBI, while slick-fielding shortstop Austin Nolas has batted .313 with 11 doubles, two triples, two homers and 34 RBI. JaCoby Jones has hit .306 with three homers, 23 RBI and 10 steals, while Tyler Hanover owns a .303 average with 19 RBI. Mason Katz has added a .277 mark with three homers and 31 RBI, while Trey Watkins has hit .257 with two homers, 19 RBI and 12 steals.
In the bullpen, decorated closer Matty Ott (1-2, 2.91 ERA) has saved a team-high five games, striking out 23 in 21.2 innings. Kevin Berry (2-1, 3.15 ERA) has appeared in 20 games with two saves in 20 innings. Chris Cotton (0-0, 3.38 ERA), Ryan Eades (2-1, 5.11 ERA) and Samuel Peterson (1-0, 6.35 ERA) have each appeared in 10 or more games.
In the last meeting with LSU, UK pulled off an improbable series sweep, pushing the Wildcats into postseason contention. In the series opener, UK got a walk-off three-run homer from slugger Lance Ray in the bottom of the ninth inning, erasing a three-run hole and lifting UK to the series-opening win. UK was led by Ray at the plate in that game, as he belted two three-run homers in the contest. UK posted a 9-4 win over LSU in the Saturday contest, getting three homers in the game and a strong pitching outing from Cooper, who went seven innings and allowed only four runs. Kapteyn closed out the game with two shutout inning, while Marcus Nidiffer led UK with three hits, with UK pounding out a total of 17 knocks in the contest. In the series finale, UK went into the bottom of the eighth inning trailing 4-2, before Nidiffer connected on a grand slam in the final at bat of his home career off Ott, lifting UK to the 6-4 win. Kapteyn contributed three hits in the game, including two doubles.
UK trails the all-time series with the Tigers, 23-39-1, including a 7-20-1 mark in games played in Baton Rouge. The Wildcats have won four of the last five meetings, snapping a losing streak of four consecutive games from 2008-09. UK's last series win over LSU in Baton Rouge came in 2007, when UK won two and tied the finale in a 9-9 contest.