LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Kentucky baseball team will look to win its third consecutive Southeastern Conference series to open league play for the first time since 2012, traveling to face Tennessee in a three-game set, with first pitch on Friday, April 1, in the opener slated for 6 p.m. ET at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville. The series will resume on Saturday at 4 p.m. and conclude on Sunday at 2 p.m.
All three games will be broadcast live on SEC Network Plus, available on the ESPN app. In addition all three games are broadcast live on the UK Sports Radio Network, available in Central Kentucky on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky (18-7 overall, 4-2 SEC) is projected to turn to its weekend rotation used the last six weeks, including junior righty Zack Brown (1-4, 5.97 ERA) on Friday, senior right-hander Dustin Beggs (6-0, 2.40 ERA) and senior righty Kyle Cody (2-1, 6.43 ERA) on Sunday.
Tennessee (16-9, 2-4 SEC)will counter with sophomore righty Zach Warren (4-1, 2.83 ERA) on Friday, sophomore southpaw Aaron Soto (2-0, 3.86 ERA) on Saturday and senior lefty Andy Cox (2-2, 7.31 ERA) on Sunday.
A native of Seymour, Ind., Brown has made six weekend-opening starts in 2016 and 18 consecutive over the last two seasons. He has a 1-4 record and a 5.97 ERA through 31.2 innings, allowing 34 hits and 18 walks, striking out 26. Last year vs. UT, Brown worked 7.1 shutout, five-hit innings, allowing four walks and striking out four on 110 pitches, with UK scoring a run in the first, two in the fifth and two in the seventh. In his career, Brown has an 8-11 record and a 4.40 ERA in 40 games and 25 starts, walking 67 and striking out 115 in 153.1 innings.
Tennessee's Warren has a 4-1 mark and a 2.83 ERA through six starts, walking only 13 and striking out 36 in 35 innings, allowing 30 hits. Last Friday, Warren suffered a hard-luck loss, working six innings at Alabama, allowing seven hits and six runs, walking three and striking out six on 107 pitches, as UT handed him a three-run lead in the first before the Tide rallied with seven unanswered.
Beggs, a native of Roswell, Ga., is the first pitcher in UK history to win their first six starts to a season. He has a 6-0 mark and a 2.40 ERA in 41.1 innings, allowing only 28 hits and seven walks, striking out 35 with opponents hitting .190. In his start in 2015 vs. Tennessee, Beggs worked eight innings in a win, allowing just five hits and one run, walking two and striking out eight as UK clinched the series in a middle game. Beggs allowed only a run as his bid for a complete-game shutout was thwarted to open the ninth. In his career, Beggs has a 13-4 record in 20 starts, striking out 110 and walking only 27 in 135 innings.
Vols' Soto has appeared in seven games and made a start last weekend for his first career start. Soto has a 2-0 mark and a 3.86 ERA in 14 innings, allowing 15 hits and four walks, striking out 11. Soto worked 4.1 innings in his first career start last Saturday, allowing only four hits and striking out three.
A native of Chippewa Falls, Wis., Cody has made six series concluding starts in 2016. A second-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, Cody has a 2-1 record and a 6.43 ERA early in 2016. He has tossed 28 innings, allowing 31 hits and 14 walks, striking out 26 with opponents hitting .272. In his career, Cody has a 13-8 record and a 4.70 ERA in 53 games and 34 starts, owning five saves and 156 strikeouts in 189.2 innings, walking 64.
UT's Cox has a 2-2 mark and a 7.31 ERA in 28.1 innings, allowing 30 hits and 25 walks, striking out 31, throwing four wild pitches and hitting four batters. Last season Cox has a 3.68 ERA in 12 games in SEC play. In his last start, at Alabama on Saturday, Cox worked five innings, allowing four runs on two hits and five walks, striking out five on 76 pitches. In his last start in 2015 vs. Kentucky, Cox was outdueled by Zack Brown, suffering a loss in seven innings, allowing eight hits and five runs, walking two and striking out six.
Kentucky is coming off a pair of midweek games at Cliff Hagan Stadium, suffering a 5-4 loss to Northern Kentucky on Tuesday, before rebounding with a 6-2 win on Wednesday vs. Xavier.
The last weekend series win over the top-ranked Gators marked UK’s fourth consecutive series victory over Florida. Kentucky’s win over Florida also marked the third consecutive season UK has won a series over a No. 1 ranked team, including vs. South Carolina (2014) and at LSU (2015).
The Wildcats have hit .295/.387/.464 as a team, scoring 172 runs with 49 doubles, six triples, 28 homers and 28 steals. On the mound, UK has a 3.82 team ERA in 224 innings, allowing only 202 hits and a .237 opponent average, walking 92 and striking out 199. Defensively, UK has fielded .969, turning 18 double plays and nabbing six of 18 runners stealing.
At the plate, junior Zach Reks has hit a team-high 4.00 through 50 at-bats, with three doubles, one homer and five RBI. Junior DH Gunnar McNeill sports a SEC-leading 20 game hitting streak with a .380 average, five homers and 30 RBI. Sophomore 1B Evan White has hit .380 with seven doubles, one triple, two homers and 25 RBI, stealing 8-of-9 bases.
Sophomore SS Riley Mahan has sported a .326 average with five doubles, two triples, three homers and 15 RBI, stealing five bases. Sophomore 2B Luke Becker has hit .298 with six doubles, one homer and 10 RBI, with a .381 on-base percentage. Junior 3B JaVon Shelby leads the team with six homers, adding six doubles, two triples and a .276 average, sporting a .451 on-base percentage and three steals. Freshman LF Tristan Pompey has hit .256 with five doubles, one triple, four homers and 22 RBI.
Freshman C Kole Cottam has shared the backstop position with sophomore Troy Squires and senior Zach Arnold, with Cottam hitting .227 with two doubles, one homer and 10 RBI. Squires has three hits and two RBI and Arnold has six hits and four RBI. Junior CF Storm Wilson has hit .225 with eight doubles, one homer and five RBI, owning a .388 on-base percentage. Junior OF Marcus Carson has added two homers and six RBI.
In relief, UK is led by senior righty Zach Strecker (2-0, 0.52 ERA), who has appeared in 10 games. Freshman righties Sean Hjelle (1-0, 0.00 ERA) and Justin Lewis (2-0, 0.45 ERA) have combined for UK’s seven saves. Righties Zach Pop (0-1, 6.00 ERA) and Bo Wilson (0-0, 12.46 ERA), join a bullpen with southpaws Dylan Dwyer (2-0, 1.69 ERA), Logan Salow (1-0, 1.98 ERA, pictured), Daniel Tillo (0-0, 6.00 ERA), Zach Logue (1-0, 4.02 ERA), Brad Schaenzer (0-1, 7.50 ERA) and Josh Smith (0-0, 7.71 ERA).
Tennessee is coming off a pair of midweek wins, including an 11-0 result on Wednesday. Led by Dave Serrano (The Trinity College and University, 2003) in his fourth year, the Vols are coming off back-to-back series setbacks to open the season, a season after UT had a 24-26 record and 11-18 mark in SEC play. UT suffered a series loss last weekend at Alabama, with the Tide sweeping a doubleheader on Saturday after suffering a 7-3 setback on Friday night, as Bama scored seven unanswered after the top of the first.
The Vols have hit .312/.402/.436 as a team, with 196 runs in 25 games, belting 52 doubles, eight triples and 13 homers, stealing 43 bases. Defensively, UT has fielded .970, turning 32 double plays and nabbing eight of 30 runners stealing. On the mound, UT has a 3.85 ERA in 222 innings, allowing 228 hits and 107 walks, striking out 196 with opponent hitting .271.
At the plate, infielder Jeff Moberg was leading the nation in runs before suffering a season-ending injury. Chris Hall has hit .391 with five doubles, one triple and 13 RBI and sophomore Benito Santiago owns a .385 mark with two doubles and six RBI. Derek Lance has hit .372 with three doubles, one triple and 10 RBI. Junior All-America 3B Nick Senzel has hit .360 with nine doubles, four homers and 35 RBI, stealing 10 bases. Outfielder Vincent Jackson has hit .319 with six homers and 31 RBI, with Jordan Rodgers hitting .303 with three homers and a team-high 39 RBI.
In relief for UT, Eric Freeman (2-1, 2.93 ERA) has appeared in 12 games, with Zach Reid (1-0, 2.31 ERA), Daniel Vasquez (1-2, 4.19 ERA) and Steven Kane (0-2, 4.29 ERA) each appearing in double-digit games. Jon Lipinski (1-0, 5.27 ERA) and Will Neely (0-0, 3.68 ERA) have each pitched in nine games in relief. Lipinski lead the team with three saves, striking out 11 and walking seven in 13.2 innings.
Tennessee leads the all-time series, 153-146, including a 89-66 all-time mark in games played in Knoxville. UK swept the Vols in 2015 in Lexington, with a 5-0 win on Friday, a 3-1 win on Saturday and a 5-3 win on Sunday. UK Coach Gary Henderson has a 12-9 record vs. Tennessee as head coach and has seen UK win the series in 2015, 2012, 2011 and 2009. UK last swept UT in Knoxville in 2008, which included a 20-5 win in the finale. Since UK’s SEC Championship season in 2006, UK has a 19-11 record vs. UT.
Kentucky has moved into the weekly rankings after its weekend series win over Florida. UK checks in as high as No. 12 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, also ranking No. 24 in the Baseball America top-25 and No. 28 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top-30 poll. UK is receiving votes or consideration in both the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll and the D1baseball Top 25.
Photo by UK Athletics