UPDATE: First pitch for Kentucky’s game against Georgia on Friday, May 5 has moved up to 2:02 p.m. ET instead of the original 6:30 p.m. start time due to forecasts of rain this evening. The remaining games in this weekend’s series remain as originally scheduled: Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.. Friday’s postgame fireworks show has been canceled but all other promotions remain in place.
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 2017 Kentucky baseball team has experienced a bit of role reversal over the course of the season. In February, the Wildcats were picked to finish in a tie for fourth in the SEC Eastern Division, well behind the division’s top three teams -- Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. While the Wildcats didn’t like the lack of respect they received, they decided to use it as motivation. From the middle of the pack, Kentucky knew that it could be the hunter.
UK has destroyed those low expectations during the 2017 season. The Wildcats are 31-14 overall, a league-leading 14-7 in the SEC and Kentucky is ranked anywhere between No. 4 and No. 6 in the national rankings. The Wildcats have gone from the hunter to the hunted within a matter of 45 games.
Kentucky will embrace the hunted role this weekend when they face Georgia for a three-game, SEC series at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Game one is Friday, May 5 at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by another 6:30 p.m. ET first pitch on Saturday. The series finale will be a 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Kentucky knows that Georgia (17-28, 5-16 SEC) has not had the success on the field this season that they had hoped to have, but the Wildcats are not overlooking the Bulldogs in any way.
“We know that going into (the weekend) and we’ve got to realize that, we’ve got to know that to prevent it,” junior first baseman Evan White said of Georgia coming into the weekend with upset on its minds. “They’re a good ball team, and just like any other team in the SEC, it’s going to be a tough weekend. That’s the mentality we’re going into this weekend with.”
Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione (pictured) also knows that Georgia can be a dangerous team.
“It definitely needs to be brought to the attention of our baseball team,” Mingione said. “They (Georgia) don’t have as many wins as they would like, but after talking to some coaches around the league, this is a competitive team. We’ve had some guys tell me, that they’re going to fight. They don’t have as many wins, but don’t let that fool you. That’s a well-coached team. And sometimes, those teams can be dangerous because they are still fighting to get in the SEC Tournament. So they will be a determined group and we will have our hands full.”
The Wildcats are trying to deal with the success that they are having without looking too far forward. With a high national ranking and RPI (currently No. 3 in the country), it would make sense for the Kentucky players to be looking toward the postseason, where they could potentially host a Regional and/or a Super Regional. But White knows that if the Wildcats look too far ahead, it could be costly.
“That’s definitely something we’ve had our sights set on from the get-go,” White said of the postseason. “But we try not to focus on that too much because if you focus on that, you’re going to lose sight of the game-by-game, pitch-by-pitch mentality. It’s cool to think about all of the stuff that’s coming, but we have to take it one game at a time. We have to stick with what has gotten us here.”
Kentucky will send Sean Hjelle to the mound on Friday to face Georgia’s Andrew Gist. Hjelle, a sophomore right-hander, has earned wins in each of this last three starts, and is now 7-2 on the season with a 3.67 ERA. Gist, a sophomore lefty, is 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA.
On Saturday, Kentucky left-hander Zach Logue takes the hill against Georgia righty Chase Adkins. Logue is 5-4 on the season with a 4.31 ERA, while Adkins is an even 5-5 on the season, with a 3.68 ERA.
In Sunday’s series finale, Kentucky sends Justin Lewis to the mound to face a Georgia starter that will be determined later. Lewis, a redshirt sophomore right-hander, is 6-2 on the season with a 3.31 ERA. In his last home start, Lewis pitched his first career complete game in a 10-2 win over LSU.
The Wildcats hope to continue to handle success this weekend, as they have all season. And if Kentucky can do so and continue to excel in the role of the hunted, the goals that Mingione and his team are trying not to think about will be well within their collective grasp.
The weekend series can be seen on SEC Network Plus (online).
UK Athletics Photo