[Moderated by Matt Jones]
It will be a busy weekend in the Commonwelth from Keeneland to Thunder to the spring football game, but in the middle of it all will be a three game set between the top two baseball teams in the SEC and in some polls, the nation. The series also kick starts the second half of the SEC season. Both the Wildcats and the Tigers won 11 of 15 games in the first half, with the Cats sweeping South Carolina in the first series of conference play and winning two out of three in the last four series. Since losing two of three games at Auburn in the second weekend of conference play, the Tigers have been on an absolute tear, winning eight out of nine SEC games including sweeps Arkansas and Alabama.
Kentucky owns the best record in college baseball at 33-5 (11-5 SEC) and are off to the best start in school history. The Cats will go with the same weekend rotation they have used all season in southpaws Taylor Rogers, Jerad Grundy, and Corey Littrell. Rogers (4-1, 5.07 ERA) is still seeking his first win in SEC play and four out of his five conference starts have ended in no decisions including last weekend’s one run loss to Arkansas. Grundy (3-1, 4.60 ERA) is also winless in SEC play with four no decisions in five starts but fell one out short of win at Tennessee due to rain. Coach Gary Henderson reiterated his support for Rogers and Grundy on Monday after both pitchers had short outings the previous weekend saying, “we’re going to keep working with them, they are our guys, and I suspect that they will improve and get better.”
Littrell (6-0, 1.95 ERA) has had an absolutely outstanding season and has been the Cats best starter in conference play. The Louisville native (Trinity) has won his last four conference starts and has pitched at least six innings in those outings. More importantly, all four of his conference wins have come in series deciding third games and Littrell is one of the key reasons for the Cats’ success in conference play. Henderson praised the sophomore earlier this week saying, “He’s been pretty steady, it’s been fun to watch to watch him grown up” and called him “a much more mature pitcher than last season.”
The Wildcats bullpen will be at full strength after a tremendous Saturday in Fayetteville where four pitchers combined to hold the Razorbacks scoreless over 8(1/3) innings in two one run games. Closer Trevor Gott, who you can read about here, picked up his eighth save of the season against Arkansas and tied UK’s single season save record. Yesterday, Gott was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association’s Stopper of the Year Award mid-season watch list.
Offensively, the Cats lead the league in numerous offensive categories including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, hits, RBIs, doubles, total bases, and are second to Florida in homeruns. Luke Maile provides the power behind the Wildcat attack and hit his league leading 10th homerun of the season on Tuesday against Cincinnati. Leadoff man Austin Cousino leads the SEC in runs scored and doubles and team in batting average.
LSU enters the series on a seven game winning streak and in the last month have swept then third ranked Arkansas and took two out of three games at then top ranked Florida. The Tigers are lead by junior cleanup hitter Raph Rhymes leads the SEC with an astounding .484 average and has knocked in 40 runs this season. LSU will throw Kevin Gausman (6-1, 2.76 ERA), Ryan Eades (5-1, 2.51 ERA), and Aaron Nola (5-1, 3.15 ERA) this weekend. All three pitchers earned wins at Alabama last weekend and Gausman earned a victory against the Cats last season, allowing one run and pitched seven innings.
It seems like I say this every week but this will be the Cats toughest challenge this season. LSU is the hottest team in the country and has a storied baseball tradition. It’s tough to say that this is the biggest series of the season because as Coach Henderson puts it, “they’re all big” but this one is for the outright lead in the SEC.
First pitches are scheduled for 6:30pm Friday, 2pm Saturday, and 1pm Sunday. All games can be heard on WLAP 630-AM in Lexington, WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville, and online at UKathletics.com. The first two games of the series will be televised locally in Lexington on CWKYT Friday and Saturday. Fox Sports South will also broadcast the first two games of the series but the Friday game will be tape-delayed due to the Predator’s playoff game. In Louisville, WMYO will broadcast the Friday game but not the Satruday game due to Thunder Over Louisville and MLB commitments.
I know it is a busy weekend but if you are going to the spring game come a few hours early and support the baseball team. Heck, you can probably even tailgate in the parking lot and watch the game from the party deck center-field. The National Championship Trophy will be at the game on Saturday and will be available for photo opportunities. Also, The KSRcollege crew and Stuart Hammer will be taping a podcast on the party deck during the game on Friday, please stop by and say hello.
Follow me on twitter @mulloyksr for live in-game updates for the games this weekend.
See you at The Cliff.
Update: Matt Roark to throw out the first pitch tonight, Anthony Davis will do so on Sunday.
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