Baseball Hosts Auburn in Final Home Series of the Season
May 7, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Sitting one and a half games out of the Southeastern Conference Tournament with six games to play, the Kentucky baseball team welcomes Auburn for its final home three-game series of the season. First pitch Friday is slated for 6:30 p.m. ET, Saturday for 7 p.m. ET and Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
Kentucky (24-23, 9-15 SEC) sits 1.5 games behind eighth-place Vanderbilt (10-13) with six games remaining in conference play. The Wildcats currently sit in ninth place, just outside of the tournament, which takes the top eight teams in the league – based on winning percentage – to the annual tournament, held May 20-24 at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala. Auburn (27-22, 8-16 SEC) is currently 2.5 games behind Vanderbilt in 10th place. Elsewhere in SEC play during the weekend, Vanderbilt travels to Georgia (14-10), Mississippi State (6-17) travels to Ole Miss (16-8), South Carolina (12-12) faces Tennessee (7-17) in Knoxville, Florida (16-8) travels to LSU (16-8) and Alabama (14-9) hosts Arkansas (14-9).
The Wildcats secured a series win in a de-facto elimination series last weekend against Tennessee, notching a series-opening win Friday night behind starter James Paxton and freshman outfielder Chad Wright’s three-RBI double. Saturday, UK dropped an 8-2 result, despite senior southpaw Chris Rusin’s career-high 14 strikeout performance. In the rubber match Sunday, the UK bats exploded for 17 runs, getting homers from Marcus Nidiffer, Gunner Glad, Braden Kapteyn and Keenan Wiley. Sophomore reliever Logan Darnell tossed five one-run innings of relief to pick up the win.
“We had a good weekend last weekend and now that it is going down to the last six games, we are going to need some help, but we are going to need to play well,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said on the SEC Coaches Teleconference Thursday morning. “We got through the weekend without (shortstop) Chris Wade and (Sunday starter) Alex Meyer, and we hope to get them back this weekend. We have been in finals week this week, so we have not played a midweek game and are just looking forward to competing this weekend against Auburn.”
UK will send Paxton (5-2, 5.40 ERA) to the mound Friday, to face off with Auburn freshman right-hander Jon Luke Jacobs (3-4, 6.23 ERA). Paxton, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound left-hander, ranks second in the league with 97 strikeouts in 65 innings, and is coming off a 12-strikeout performance against Tennessee in a win last Friday. After two injury-impacted starts in the middle of the year, Paxton saw his ERA inflate to over 5.00, but without those two starts, Paxton has a 5-0 record and a 3.88 ERA in nine starts, striking out 89 in 58 innings, allowing only 50 hits and opponents to hit for a measly .225 average.
Saturday, Rusin (5-4, 4.07 ERA), UK’s steady senior southpaw, gets the starting nod, facing off with Auburn sophomore lefty Grant Dayton (2-5, 5.61 ERA). Last weekend, Rusin’s 14-strikeout game moved him past Brandon Webb for third all-time in UK career history with 261 strikeouts. With 21 career wins, the Canton, Mich., native checks in fourth-best all-time in the 105-year history of UK baseball. On the year, Rusin ranks third in the SEC with 95 strikeouts in 77.1 innings.
Sunday, UK has yet to announce a starter, as usual Sunday starter, Alex Meyer (1-3, 4.67 ERA) is recovering from a line-drive taken off the calf at No. 21 Alabama two weekends ago. Last Sunday, junior right-hander Clint Tilford (1-4, 6.47 ERA) got his first career SEC start for UK. Auburn will start freshman right-hander Dexter Price (3-2, 5.74 ERA) Sunday, the 10th start of the year for the Colorado Springs, Colo., native.
Auburn has hit for a .295 team batting average, posting a 6.28 ERA on the mound. The Auburn offense has been electric, leading the league and ranking fourth in the NCAA with a staggering 97 home runs on the year, getting multi-homer totals from five different Tigers, with three other players totaling six or more home runs. Joseph Sanders (.329, 14 2B, 3B, 18 HR, 54 RBI), Trent Mummey (.306, 11 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 39 RBI, 14-16 SB), Brian Fletcher (.301, 14 HR, 47 RBI), Hunter Morris (.291, 7 2B, 12 HR, 31 RBI) and Ben Jones (.294, 10 2B, 10 HR, 45 RBI) have led the power barrage. Justin Hargett (.333, 8 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 8-11 SB), Casey McElroy (.286, 11 2B, 2 3B, 7 HR, 29 RBI), Tony Caldwell (.282, 10 2B, 8 HR, 20 RBI) and Kevin Patterson (.244, 5 2B, 6 HR, 18 RBI) have helped round out the lineup.
On the mound for the Tigers, Austin Hubbard (2-2, 4.36 ERA) leads the team with 10 saves in 21 appearances, striking out 47 in just 33 innings. Bradley Hendrix (7-3, 5.02 ERA), Michael Hurst (4-0, 5.32 ERA), Zach Blatt (1-0, 7.36 ERA), Chris O’Neil (0-0, 7.45 ERA), Taylor Thompson (3-3, 9.00 ERA) and Rus Harper (0-0, 14.40 ERA) have all appeared in at least 10 games.
On the year, Kentucky has hit for a .293 team average, tallying a 5.34 ERA on the mound. Sophomore second baseman Chris Bisson (.366, 9 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 50 RBI, 13-15 SB) has led the way throughout the year, leading UK in average, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples and RBI. Third baseman Chris McClendon (.239, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 3-4 SB), catcher Marcus Nidiffer (.309, 5 2B, 3B, 6 HR, 26 RBI), shortstop Chris Wade (.296, 8 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 25 RBI, 14-16 SB) and center fielder Keenan Wiley (.259, 3 2B, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 11-12 SB) have provided a veteran presence for a club that has seen has many as nine first or second-year starters in the lineup at one time. UK has relied heavily on its freshman class, including Wright (.338, 6 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 7-9 SB), infielder Braden Kapteyn (.307, 8 2B, 3 HR, 20 RBI), infielder Andy Burns (.295, 7 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 25 RBI, 3-3 SB) and outfielder Cory Farris (.258, 9 RBI) all seeing extensive time in the lineup.
Out of the bullpen, Darnell (5-5, 4.62 ERA) has appeared in a team-high 24 games, totaling two saves. Kapteyn (3-0, 6.28 ERA), a 6-foot-4, 215-pound two-way player, has served as UK’s shutdown reliever in the late innings, posting a club-best four saves, striking out 38 in 28.2 innings. Kapteyn’s ERA has been victim of four three-earned run outings out of 20 games pitched, and without those four appearances, the Lansing, Ill., native has a totaled a 2-0 record, a 3.13 ERA, with four saves and 31 strikeouts in 23 innings. In the four games he has tallied saves, Kapteyn has posted a perfect 0.00 ERA, allowing only one hit in 5.2 innings, striking out six.
Individually in the SEC statistics, Bisson leads the way, ranking sixth in average, fourth in hits, 10th in RBI, fifth in triples and 10th in stolen bases. Bisson ranks sixth in the SEC in at bats (194), ranking as the league leader with 40 hits in conference play. Wade leads the league with 13 sacrifice bunts, checking in seventh in stolen bases. Rusin ranks as the 10th-best ERA in the league, checking in second in innings pitched, third in strikeouts, seventh in looking strikeouts (23) and second in fewest home runs allowed (4). Paxton checks in second in strikeouts, first in looking strikeouts (32) and 12th in fewest walks allowed. Meyer, a 6-foot-8 native of Greensburg, Ind., has allowed the fourth-best opponent batting average (.225), ranking second in hits allowed (42). Defensively, Wade – despite missing the last four games – ranks ninth in the SEC in assists (117).
Auburn leads the all-time series with the two clubs, 67-37, including a 29-18 mark in Lexington. Auburn has won six of the last nine meetings, with UK’s last series win coming in 2004 in Auburn. UK last won a series from the Tigers in Lexington 20 years ago, during the 1989 campaign.
Last year, Auburn won two of the three games, posting wins Friday and Saturday, with UK salvaging the series with a win on getaway day. UK entered the Friday night game in 2008 winners of a school-record 19 straight, rolling to a 19-0 record and a school-record No. 2 national ranking. Dayton got the start for Auburn, firing a gem, going six innings, allowing only six hits, while striking out five. Rusin also turned in a stellar outing in the 2-0 loss, going eight innings, allowing two runs, striking out a then career-best 10. In the 7-5 Auburn win Saturday, UK starter Scott Green was chased from the game in the fifth inning, after walking five and allowing four earned run. After UK tied up the game at 4-4 in the fifth inning, Auburn used a three-run sixth inning off reliever Andrew Albers to notch the win. Troy Frazier’s 2-for-3, three-RBI game and a two-hit game from Wade highlighted UK’s offense Saturday. UK salvaged the series Sunday with a 9-8 win, despite having starting pitcher Greg Dombrowski chased form the game in the fifth inning. UK ran Auburn righty Luke Greinke from the game after three, getting multi-hit games from McClendon, Wade, Collin Cowgill and Sawyer Carroll. Overall in the 2008 Auburn series, Wade led UK with a .364 average (4-for-11), with returnees Wiley (.308; 4-for-13), McClendon (.273; 3-for-11), Frazier (.400; 2-for-5, HR, 3 RBI) and Bryan Rose (.500; 1-for-2, SB) posting strong efforts.
In the last meeting in Lexington, UK needed to win two of three in the final series of the year to clinch a spot in the SEC Tournament, and almost certainly a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Auburn won Friday and Saturday, taking advantage of nine UK errors in the three games. The Tigers pounded UK 18-7 Friday night, as Rusin, a sophomore at the time, allowed 12 runs in four innings. Saturday, Auburn again pounded UK with a 13-6 result, using eight runs in the first two innings, chasing Albers from the game in the second inning after allowing all eight runs, with just one earned. UK committed four errors in the game, leading to eight total unearned runs. In UK’s Sunday win to close out the season, an 8-7 win, UK got a homer and four RBI from first-team All-American catcher Sean Coughlin and 3.1 innings of relief from Green, who struck out seven while allowing only one earned run. Paxton picked up the win as a freshman, while Aaron Lovett notched his team-high seventh save.
Auburn won the series in 2006, getting wins Saturday and Sunday, after the then-No. 20 Wildcats claimed an 8-7 comeback win Friday night. UK got a run in the top of the ninth at Plainsman Park to score the opener and give Brock Baber his third win of the year. Future Chicago White Sox top prospect John Shelby batted 4-for-4 with four RBI for UK, adding two doubles and two homers in the Friday night win. Saturday, Evan Crawford handcuffed the UK offense through five innings, allowing only two hits and one run, despite walking six. UK starter Craig Snipp gave up five runs in seven innings. Sunday, Auburn rode a five-run sixth inning to a 12-6 win, as Dombrowski started and allowed six runs in 4.1 innings and Albers allowed five runs in 1.1 innings in relief. Brian Hastings and Billy Grace each totaled two RBI for the Wildcats Sunday in 2006.
Tentative Pitching Matchups
Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change) – Lexington, Ky.
Live Television (BBSN with Dick Gabriel, Doug Flynn and Ryan Lemond)
Radio (BBSN with Neil Price)
UK will utilize two lots: the C8 lot behind Shively Sports Center, and the 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.