LEXINGTON, Ky. – New Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione (pictured) will kick off his tenure in Lexington with a challenging three-game road series against perennial national power North Carolina beginning with Friday night’s season opener where the Wildcats will face preseason All-American pitcher J.B. Bukauskas at Boshamer Stadium.
Led by its own preseason All-American Evan White, the Wildcats are seeking a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2014 after narrowly missing the field each of the past two seasons. White, who was a teammate of Bukauskas last summer on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, is considered college baseball’s premier defensive first baseman and is one of the UK program’s most accomplished hitters. He’s flanked by a deep and experienced lineup that features eight returning starters, including infielder Riley Mahan, who caught scouts’ attention with his hitting stroke in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer, and outfielders Zach Reks (Sr., .331 in 2016) and Tristan Pompey (So., 16 extra-base hits).
The Cats’ pitching staff will have a new look while replacing all 42 weekend starts from last season, 22 victories and nearly 65 percent of the total innings pitched. Towering right-handers Sean Hjelle (6-foot-11) and Justin Lewis (6-foot-7) were both Freshman All-Americans last season as relievers and will move into starting roles, while junior lefty Zach Logue is coming off an impressive summer and will slot alongside them. Senior Logan Salow and hard-throwing junior Zach Pop are expected to nail down the late innings for the Cats.
Game times for this weekend are 3 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. for Sunday’s finale. All times are eastern.
SCOUTING NORTH CAROLINA
Although Kentucky and North Carolina share a long and storied history on the basketball court the two programs have only met once on the baseball diamond, a 1-0 Tar Heels victory more than 100 years ago.
Led by longtime coach Mike Fox, who is in his 19th season at the school, Carolina also is coming off a season where it just missed the NCAA Tournament. Fox is the second-winningest active coach in both total victories and winning percentage and has led the Tar Heels to six College World Series appearances since 2006 and back-to-back runner-up finished in 2006 and 2007.
Kentucky will have its hands full with Friday night starter J.B. Bukauskas, who has been honored on five preseason All-America teams, and junior outfielder Brian Miller, who has made four second-team All-America lists and led the team with a .345 average in 2016.
WEEKEND PITCHING ROTATON
(Note: all stats from 2016)
UK – Sean Hjelle (So., RHP): 4-1, 3.74 ERA, 8 saves
UNC – J.B. Bukauskas (Jr., RHP): 7-2, 3.10 ERA, 111 strikeouts
UK – Zach Logue (Jr., LHP): 3-2, 2.68 ERA
UNC – Jason Morgan (Jr., RHP): 3-3, 4.10 ERA
UK – Justin Lewis (So., RHP): 2-0, 2.08 ERA, 4 saves
UNC – Luca Dalatri (Fr., RHP): N/A
Date/Time: Feb. 17 (3 p.m.); Feb. 18 (2 p.m.); Feb. 19 (1 p.m.)
Location (Facility): Chapel Hill, N.C. (Boshamer Stadium)
Radio: UK Radio Network; 98.5 FM-Lexington (Dick Gabriel); ukathletics.com
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UK Junior First Baseman Evan White Adds To 2017 Preseason Honors
Kentucky junior first baseman Evan White was named to the 2017 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, it was announced Wednesday, Feb. 15.
This award honors the top amateur baseball player in the nation for their performance on the field. The preseason watch list features 55 of the nation’s most elite players in 16 different collegiate athletic conferences. The Southeastern Conference placed 13 individuals on the watch list, which tied for the most with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Former Wildcat A.J. Reed claimed the award in 2014 and joined the likes of Major League Baseball stars Kris Bryant, Trevor Bauer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Buster Posey, and David Price, who also won the award.
White, from Gahanna, Ohio, was voted to the Coaches’ Preseason All-Southeastern Conference Team just last week. He also has received preseason honors from Collegiate Baseball, D1 Baseball, PerfectGame.org and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association coming off a stellar 2016 season where he earned Second Team All-SEC honors. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder’s defensive prowess earned him a Rawlings Gold Glove in 2016 and All-SEC Defensive Team honors for the second consecutive season. As a freshman in 2015, White earned Freshman All-SEC honors.
In 2016, he led the team in average (.376), at bats (226), hits (85), runs (44), doubles (15), triples (3), runs batted in (40), total bases (121) and stolen bases (10). White’s career .348 batting average ranks No. 7 on UK’s all-time list (min. 300 at bats). White’s .376 batting average in 2016 ranks him tied with Terry Shumpert (1987) for the 11th highest single-season mark in school history and his 85 hits rank him 11th on the single-season hits list.
White spent the summer playing for the United States Collegiate National Team, which traveled to Cuba, Japan and Taiwan. White was the team’s primary first baseman, starting 15 of 19 games and hitting .250 with eight runs scored.
Fans can nominate their favorite players for the Golden Spikes Award prior to the unveiling of the Midseason Watch List on April 12. The voting window reaches from March 27 – April 2 at GoldenSpikesAward.com. Finalists for the prestigious honor will be announced on June 14 and the winner crowned on Thursday, June 29.
UK Athletics Photo