Cats hit road for huge series at Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In a tie for the eighth and final spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with Tennessee, the No. 22 Kentucky baseball team hits the road for its final road series of the season, a pivotal three-game set with the Volunteers, beginning on Friday at 7 p.m. ET at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Kentucky (35-14, 11-13 SEC) enters the series tied with the Volunteers for the eighth position in the SEC Tournament. The SEC takes the two division leaders and the next six teams based on winning percentage to the tournament, held May 21-25 in Hoover, Ala.

Last weekend, UK suffered its first home sweep in over four years, falling at the hands of the hottest team in college baseball, LSU. The Tigers left Lexington having won nine consecutive games, posting a 3-1 win in 10 innings in game one, a 12-5 win in game two, and a dramatic ninth inning rally on Sunday to claim a 9-8 win. UK had LSU down to its last strike with two out and two strikes in the top of the ninth, before allowing the go-ahead two-run homer from Matt Clark.

Kentucky has been powered by an explosive offense that ranks as the league leader in nine offensive categories, including batting average (.325), slugging (.528), on-base percentage (.421), runs scored (406), RBI (366), doubles (119), hit by pitches (76), sac bunts (59) and sac flies (29). UK leads the league in ERA (3.53), ranking second in the conference in fielding percentage (.975).

On Tuesday, UK notched a season-high offensive performance, rolling to a 21-3 win over Wright State, a team that had won eight of its last 10 games. Senior second baseman Ryan Wilkes had a career day, homering from both sides of the plate, finishing 5-for-6 with a career-high eight RBI.

One of the more statistically impressive players to ever come through UK, Wilkes ranks on the career record lists in nearly every category, including games played (201), games started (194), most at bats (664), most walks (112), sacrifice flies (19) and sacrifice bunts (36). Wilkes ranks sixth in the SEC in batting average (.385).

The Wildcats have been led at the dish by its two National Player of the Year candidates, Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill. Carroll ranks as the league leader in batting average (.415), ranking fourth in slugging (.721), fifth in on-base percentage (.500), third in hits (76), second in RBI (65), seventh in doubles (16), 10th in homers (12) and third in total bases (132). Cowgill, who has been playing at less then 100-percent due to a hamstring injury, ranks eighth in batting average (.368), third in slugging (.725), sixth in on-base percentage (.452), second in runs scored (64), sixth in RBI (49), fourth in home runs (16), third in total bases (132), third in walks (38), and fifth in stolen bases (18). Freshman shortstop Chris Wade leads the SEC in doubles, cranking out 20 two-baggers. Senior catcher Tyler Howe leads the NCAA in hit by pitches, getting plunked 24 times.

Tennessee (25-24, 11-13 SEC) enters the series having lost five consecutive games, including a series sweep at the hands of Vanderbilt last weekend. UT lost its midweek game on Wednesday to Belmont, 5-3. The Volunteers have been led at the plate by one of the top freshman in college baseball, centerfielder Kentrail Davis, who leads the team with a .346 average, 12 homers and 43 RBI. Catcher Yan Gomes (.335, 5 HR, 34 RBI), Shawn Griffin (.327, 11 HR, 34 RBI), Jeff Lockwood (.300, 6 HR, 28 RBI) and Andy Simunic (.297, 9 2B, 8 RBI, 20-23 SB) have paced UT at the plate.

The game can be heard live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with the voice of UK baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the action live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM. First pitches are set for 7 p.m. ET on Friday, and 1 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.