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Baseball Wildcats picks up another preseason Top 20 ranking

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After earning a No. 19 national ranking in the preseason Collegiate Baseball Newspaper top-40, the Kentucky baseball team has been selected No. 23 in the preseason National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, it was announced.

Kentucky, who finished the 2008 campaign with a school-record 44 wins and an appearance in the Ann Arbor NCAA Regional Championship game, has now been ranked in three consecutive preseason polls, dating back to the 2007 preseason. The Wildcats earned a No. 20 ranking in 2008 and a No. 27 spot in 2007 by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. UK was also ranked No. 25 by the NCBWA in the 2008 preseason.

UK, winners of 122 games over the last three years – the fourth-best total in the Southeastern Conference, returns one of the top pitching staffs and defensive units in the SEC in 2009. The Wildcats led the SEC in nearly every category in 2008, including ERA, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, doubles, sac bunts, sac flies and fewest home runs allowed. UK ranked second in the conference in fielding percentage, setting a new school record with a .974 clip.

The Wildcats lost several key components from the 2008 ballclub, including first-team All-America outfielders Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill. The outfield duo led UK in nearly every category, with Carroll posting an SEC-leading .419 average, 83 RBI, as well as 19 homers. Cowgill, a Lexington, Ky., native, ripped 19 homers and hit for a .361 average, stealing 23-of-27 bases. In addition, second baseman Ryan Wilkes exhausted his eligibility, posting a .374 average and a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 2008. Wilkes, a native of Harrison, Tenn., claimed the award as the top defensive second baseman in the nation, earning a Rawlings Gold Glove accolade. On the mound, UK lost veterans Greg Dombrowski, Andrew Albers, Brock Baber, Aaron Lovett and Scott Green.

UK has been bolstered on the mound in 2009 by the return of first-team All-SEC starting pitcher Chris Rusin and Saturday starter James Paxton. The Wildcats also return freshman All-America shortstop Chris Wade, and the top returning third baseman in the SEC – Chris McClendon. Center fielder Keenan Wiley also returns, after posting a .327 average in each his freshman and sophomore seasons.

In his first season at the helm of the UK program, head coach Gary Henderson hauled in the fourth-best recruiting class in the nation and the tops in school history. Middle infielder Andy Burns and 6-foot-8 right-hander Alex Meyer highlighted the class, along with fellow Louisville Slugger High School All-Americans Braden Kapteyn (RHP/IF) and Cory Farris (OF/C).

Kentucky opens the 2009 season with the Caravelle Resort Tournament, hosted by Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C. UK will open with Troy, before facing James Madison and Coastal Carolina. The Wildcats home opener is Feb. 27 at Cliff Hagan Stadium, facing off with Western Michigan in a four-game set.

NCBWA Top-35 Preseason Poll

Rk. School Conference Record Pvs.

1. North Carolina Atlantic Coast 54-14 3

2. LSU Southeastern 49-19-1 6

3. Rice Conference USA 47-15 7

4. Texas A&M Big 12 46-19 14

5. Georgia Southeastern 45-25-1 2

6. Florida State Atlantic Coast 54-14 8

7. Arizona State Pacific-10 49-13 9

8. Texas Big 12 39-22 21

9. Stanford Pacific-10 41-24-2 4

10. Cal State Fullerton Big West 41-22 11

11. Louisville Big East 41-21 -

12. Miami Atlantic Coast 53-11 5

13. Georgia Tech Atlantic Coast 41-21 26

14. Mississippi Southeastern 39-26 -

15. UC Irvine Big West 42-18 10

16. Oklahoma State Big 12 44-18 17

17. Fresno State Western Athletic 47-31 1

18. San Diego West Coast 44-17 18

19. Baylor Big 12 32-26 -

20. Missouri Big 12 39-21 19

21. Pepperdine West Coast 38-21 -

22. Coastal Carolina Big South 50-14 13

23. Kentucky Southeastern 44-19 23

24. Florida Southeastern 34-24 -

25. UCLA Pacific-10 33-27 -

26. Clemson Atlantic Coast 31-27-1 -

27. East Carolina Conference USA 42-21 -

28. Oklahoma Big 12 36-26 -

29. Arizona Pacific-10 42-19 12

30. Michigan Big Ten 46-14 28

31. Oregon State Pacific-10 28-24 -

32. TCU Mountain West 44-19 -

33. USC Pacific-10 28-28 -

34. Tulane Conference USA 39-22-1 -

35. Wichita State Missouri Valley 48-17 15

Others receiving votes (listed alphabetically): Alabama (35-28), Arkansas (34-24), Auburn (28-28), Bethune-Cookman (36-22), California (33-21-2), Charlotte (43-16), College of Charleston (39-20), Dallas Baptist (37-19), Elon (44-18), Houston (42-24), Lamar (35-23), Long Beach State (38-21), Missouri State (40-17), N.C. State (42-22), Nebraska (41-16), New Orleans (43-21), Notre Dame (33-21-1), Ohio State (30-26), Oral Roberts (48-14), Oregon (0-0), Sam Houston State (37-25), San Diego State (31-28), Santa Clara (33-22), South Carolina (40-23), Southern Miss (42-22), St. John's (42-16), Tennessee (27-29), UC Davis (35-24), UC Santa Barbara (35-21), UNC Wilmington (44-17), UTSA (39-19), Vanderbilt (41-22), Virginia (39-23).

* 2009 UK opponents in bold


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