KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- After suffering two consecutive walk-off losses, the Kentucky baseball team will look to rebound and reassert itself in the Southeastern Conference Tournament race, traveling to face off with Tennessee for a three-game series, beginning Friday at 5 p.m. ET at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. UK will face UT Saturday at 4 p.m. ET and Sunday at 3 p.m. ET
All three game of the series will be televised, with the series-opening game Friday night set for television on ESPNU, with Dan McLaughlin (play-by-play) and Jay Walker (color) calling the action. The Saturday and Sunday games will be televised by SportsSouth. All three games will also be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, voicing the action. Friday, fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WGVN 1580-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM. Saturday and Sunday, fans in Lexington can hear the games live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.
Kentucky (23-18, 6-12 SEC) and Tennessee sit in a tie for ninth place overall in the SEC, one spot out of position for the 2010 SEC Tournament, held at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. UK and Tennessee sit two spots behind Alabama (25-15, 8-10, SEC). UK owns a series win over Alabama for the tie breaker with the Crimson Tide. Alabama travels to No. 2 South Carolina (32-8, 14-4 SEC) for a weekend series Friday, with the Gamecocks leading the league with 14 wins in conference play and owning a 20-3 mark in home games. The SEC takes the top eight teams in the conference, based on winning percentage, to the league tournament.
The games with Tennessee will mark the first games UK has played against an opponent not ranked in the last 15 games. In the current stretch, which ends with an unranked UT team Friday, UK played a ranked opponent in 19 of 21 games. The Wildcats own a No. 22 RPI in the latest projections on BoydsWorld.com, posting wins over seven of the 21 teams ranked above them in the RPI. All told, UK will play 30 games against ranked opponents this season (according to rankings as of 4/27/10), with UK posting wins over 10 opponents currently ranked.
The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back walk-off losses, falling 6-5 in the rubber match of the series with No. 29 Auburn last weekend on a walk-off single from Auburn All-American Hunter Morris. Wednesday night, UK climbed from behind to plate five runs in the top of the ninth inning at No. 11 Louisville to take a three-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals rallied for four runs to walk-off with the win and even the two-game series with UK. Kentucky won game one, 5-0 in Lexington on April 6. The rowdy ninth inning in Louisville saw both closers, UK’s Matt Little and Louisville’s Neil Holland allow a combined nine runs with Little suffering the loss and Holland sneaking out with the win.
Kentucky will turn to junior southpaw Logan Darnell (3-3, 5.46 ERA) for his 11th career start Friday night against Tennessee dynamic lefty Bryan Morgado (2-5, 6.83 ERA). Darnell, who made 43 relief appearances without starting in his first two seasons, has tossed 61 innings this season, allowing 74 hits and 42 runs, walking 21 and striking out 48. In his last start, Darnell went 6.1 innings at Auburn allowing nine hits and eight runs – seven earned – walking two and striking out seven. Morgado is a high-velocity lefty who was drafted in the third round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox, electing to return to UT for his junior season. In 56.2 innings in 2010, Morgado has allowed just 54 hits and 43 runs, walking 29 and striking out a staff-best 64. In his last start, Morgado went 4.2 innings, allowed 10 hits and nine runs in a loss at No. 15 Vanderbilt, walking one and striking out four.
Saturday, UK will start freshman southpaw Taylor Rogers (4-5, 5.26 ERA) in his 11th start of the season. A 6-foot-3, 170-pounder, Rogers has tossed 63.1 innings, allowing just nine walks and striking out 31. A true freshman, Rogers has established himself as a gutsy performer and excellent competitor, starting all season in the UK weekend rotation. In his last start, Rogers nearly went the distance for a decimated UK bullpen Sunday in a seven-inning game, going 6.2 innings and allowing eight hits and six runs, walking one and striking out five. Rogers was within two outs from closing out the game for the complete-game win, but the Tigers mounted a two-out rally to walk-off with the win. UT will counter with veteran senior right-hander Stephen McCray (4-3, 2.43 ERA). On the year, McCray has tossed 63 innings in 10 starts, allowing just 47 hits and 18 runs, walking 18 and striking out 43. In his last start, McCray went 7.1 innings in a UT win over Vandy, allowing just three hits and two runs – one earned – walking one and striking out four. Both teams have yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday, as UK’s usual Sunday starter, Alex Meyer, has been out due to illness.
UK has been led by a .301 team average, a 5.56 team ERA and a .964 fielding percentage. Individually, sophomore leftfielder Chad Wright leads the team with a .355 average (59-for-166) with 10 doubles, two triples, two homers and 31 RBI, stealing nine bases. Senior Gunner Glad has hit .348 (54-for-155) with 10 doubles, eight homers and a club-best 37 RBI. Senior centerfielder Keenan Wiley is having his best season in his fifth year in Lexington, batting .345 (51-for-148) with six doubles, one triple, four homers and 29 RBI, swiping 11 bags. All-American second baseman Chris Bisson leads the SEC with 21 stolen bases, batting .329 (47-for-143) with seven doubles, one triple, two homers and 23 RBI, leading the club with 22 walks. Shortstop Taylor Black has batted .283 (36-for-127) with five doubles, five homers and 23 RBI, while Braden Kapteyn has totaled a .281 average (34-for-121) with six doubles, five homers and 23 RBI. Sophomore rightfielder Cory Farris has hit .270 (27-for-100) with five doubles, seven homers and 23 RBI, stealing six bases. Sophomore Andy Burns leads the team with 11 homers in 41 games, batting .267 (39-for-146) with eight doubles and 26 RBI. Senior Marcus Nidiffer has hit .265 (26-for-98) with five homers and 17 RBI. Lance Ray has emerged as a key player and one of the hottest hitters in the conference, batting .365 (23-for-63) after recovering from offseason wrist surgery and snapping out of an early season slump. Ray has nine doubles and four homers, adding 15 RBI, with seven doubles coming in the last four games.
In the bullpen for the Wildcats, Little (2-2, 3.82 ERA) leads the team with 19 relief appearances and six saves, tossing 33 innings and striking out 42. Mike Kaczmarek (1-0, 4.00 ERA) has appeared in 15 games out of the pen, tossing 18 innings and striking out 16. Freshman right-hander Jordan Cooper (2-3, 5.97 ERA) has emerged as a starting option with 16 appearances and four starts, including his first career SEC start at Auburn on Sunday. Kapteyn (1-0, 3.29 ERA) has pitched in 13 games and hurled 13.2 innings, while junior right-hander Nick Kennedy (3-1, 4.01 ERA) has appeared in 14 games. Kennedy, a native of East Los Angeles, Calif., has pitched 24.2 innings, allowing 24 hits and 10 walks, striking out 31.
Tennessee (22-20, 6-12 SEC) has struggled in 2010 but are coming off its best weekend of the year with a series win over No. 15 Vanderbilt in Knoxville. After Vandy pounded UT in the first game, 10-1 behind Sonny Gray, the Saturday contest was rained out, setting up two seven inning games Sunday. UT won the first game of the twinbill in 11 innings, 4-2 and walked off with a 4-3 win and series victory in the finale. UT has suffered series losses at cellar-dwelling Mississippi State, Ole Miss and South Carolina, in addition to home series losses against Florida and LSU. The Vols have been led by a potent offensive attack that ranks third in homers (57), batting .293 as a team. UT has totaled a 5.60 team ERA and a solid .975 team fielding percentage.
Individually, P.J. Polk leads the Vols with a .354 average (57-for-161) with nine doubles, eight homers and 35 RBI, stealing 20-of-24 bases. Matt Duffy has hit .311 (47-for-151) with 11 doubles, three homers and 30 RBI. Josh Liles has added a .301 (40-for-133) average with two homers and 19 RBI, while slugger Cody Hawn has hit .299 (44-for-147) with seven homers and 39 RBI. Khayyan Norfork has batted .296 (40-for-135) with two homers and 19 RBI, while Louisville, Ky., native Zach Osborne has hit .295 (46-for-156) with five homers and 22 RBI. Catcher Blake Forsythe, a member of Team USA last season, has belted nine homers and hit .266 (38-for-143) with a team-best 42 RBI.
In the bullpen, Matt Ramsey (2-1, 3.80 ERA) leads the team with two saves in 16 relief outings, tossing 21.1 innings with 27 strikeouts. Steve Crnkovich (4-1, 5.83 ERA), D.J. Leffler (0-0, 5.68 ERA), Nick Blount (2-2, 6.67 ERA), Alan Walden (1-0, 9.00 ERA) and Will Locante (1-1, 7.16 ERA) have each appeared in 10 or more games for UT.
UK ranks throughout the SEC stats, checking in seventh in average (.301), fourth in slugging (.485) and sixth in on-base percentage (.401). UK ranks tied with UT with 57 homers, leading the league in stolen bases (88) and hit by pitch (89). Defensively, UK ranks second in the league in chances (1631), first in assists (494) and first in double plays turned (41). Individually, Wright ranks eighth in the league in hits (59) and 11th in at bats (166). Burns ranks eighth in the league in home runs (11), while Bisson checks in first in stolen bases (21) and Neiko Johnson ranks fourth in steals (20). On the mound, Rogers ranks fourth in innings pitched (63.1) and Nidiffer ranks first in the SEC in pickoffs (four). Little checks in fourth in saves (six) and second in games finished (16). Defensively, Black ranks second in the SEC in assists (132), with Glad ranking fifth in chances (360), seventh in putouts (314) and second in fielding double plays (33).
UK trails the all-time series with the Vols, 135-155, including a 62-84 mark in games played in Knoxville. The Wildcats have won two straight series over UT and have posted wins in six of the last seven meetings in the series. UT has not won a series over Kentucky in Knoxville since the 2004 season.
Last season, UK posted a series win over UT, remaining in the hunt for the tournament and helping push the Vols out of contention late in the season. UK posted a 6-4 win in game one in Lexington, behind a strong outing from James Paxton, who went eight innings and allowed four runs and struck out 12. Kapteyn picked up the save with a shutout inning in relief. Wright led UK with three RBI, while Wiley, Burns, Bisson and Kapteyn each charted multi-hit games. Nick Hernandez started for UT and went six innings, allowing 10 hits and six runs. UT evened the series Saturday with an 8-2 win over UK, despite a strong effort from Chris Rusin on the mound, who struck out a career-high 14 in 7.1 innings of work. Rusion allowed five hits and six runs, walking five. UT started Ty’Relle Harris, who went 4.2 innings, allowing six hits and one run without a walk or strikeout. Morgado relieved Harris and was dominating, going 4.1 innings, allowing two hits and one run, walking four and striking out five. Nidiffer and Chris McClendon led UK at the plate with two hits each. In the rubber match, UK pounded the Vols, 17-11, despite not having Meyer on the mound as the usual Sunday starter. UK started Clint Tilford, who went four innings, allowed six hits and six runs, walking three without a strikeout. UK got four RBI from Bisson, Glad and Kapteyn, while Wiley added three RBI. Wright and Bisson each had three hits, while Burns drew a career-high four walks, scoring three runs. Darnell picked up the win with five sterling innings in relief, allowing just two hits and one run, walking one and striking out four. UT started Steven Gruver, who went 1.2 innings, allowing five hits and six runs – none earned – walking two and striking out three.
In 2008, UK swept the Vols on senior weekend for UT, posting a 5-3 win in the opener, a 5-2 win in the second game to win the series, then pounded the Vols 20-5 on senior day at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Kentucky – 23-18, 6-12 SEC
Tennessee – 22-20, 6-12 SECHead CoachesKentucky
• Gary Henderson (San Diego State, 1984)
• 51-44 (.537) - 2nd yearTennessee
• Todd Raleigh (Western Carolina, 1991)
• 332-287 (.536) - 11th yearSchedule (times Eastern and subject to change) -- Knoxville, Tenn.
Friday, April 30 * at Tennessee * 5 p.m.
Saturday, May 1 * at Tennessee * 4 p.m.
Sunday, May 2 * at Tennessee * 3 p.m.Radio (BBSN with Neil Price)Friday
• WGVN 1580-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
• WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
• WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
• UKathletics.comInternet Coverage
Live audio and stats on UKathletics.comTelevision CoverageFriday
• ESPNU with Dan McLaughlin (PBP) and Jay Walker (color)Saturday
• Fox Sports Net (Insight-Lexington channel 52) with Bob Kessling (PBP) and Rusty Ensor (color)Sunday
• Fox Sports Net (Insight-Lexington channel 52) with Bob Kessling (PBP) and Rusty Ensor (color)Tentative Pitching MatchupsFriday at Tennessee
LHP Logan Darnell
(3-3, 5.46 ERA) vs. LHP Bryan Morgado (2-5, 6.83 ERA)Saturday at Tennessee
LHP Taylor Rogers
(4-5, 5.26 ERA) vs. RHP Stephen McCray (4-3, 2.43 ERA)Sunday at Tennessee
TBA vs. TBAStadium
Lindsey Nelson Stadium (3,800)