ATHENS, Ga. - Needing a win to clinch its third consecutive trip to the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Kentucky will conclude its regular season at Georgia, with first pitch in the series opener on Thursday slated for 7 p.m. ET at Foley Field. The series will resume on Friday at 7 p.m. ET and conclude on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET at Foley Field.
Kentucky (30-21, 12-15 SEC) enters the final weekend of the regular season needing a win or an Auburn loss to clinch a berth in the 2014 SEC Tournament. UK could finish anywhere from the six seed to the No. 13 seed during the final weekend. UK enters the final weekend owning a No. 21 NCAA RPI, with its RPI marking the sixth-best in the SEC and its strength of schedule at No. 3. The Wildcats have not been to three consecutive SEC Tournament since the 1991-94 seasons, the only teams to accomplish the feat.
The three games will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Central Kentucky can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky will send the weekend rotation of junior left-hander/first baseman A.J. Reed (9-2, 2.30 ERA) on Thursday, with starters for Friday and Saturday not yet determined. Georgia will start sophomore lefty Ryan Lawlor (4-5, 3.98 ERA) on Thursday, sophomore righty David Sosebee (1-3, 2.85 ERA) on Friday and freshman right-hander Robert Tyler (5-4, 2.57 ERA) on Friday.
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed has started 27 consecutive weekend series openers for the Wildcats, including 13 in 2014. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder has worked 90 innings, allowing 80 hits and 25 walks, striking out 63 and holding opponents to a .237 average. On Friday vs. Auburn, Reed picked up his SEC-leading ninth win of the year, while also hitting a homer in a victory on the mound for the fifth time in 2014. Reed worked eight strong innings, allowing seven hits and three runs, walking two and striking out five. Reed allowed a single Auburn run in the fourth, as a single and two walks led off the inning, with Reed pitching out of the jam to keep the game tied. Auburn took the lead vs. Reed in the sixth inning, getting three straight two-out hits, including a two-RBI double from Ryan Tella. Reed then worked the final seven outs to give UK a 6-3 lead heading to the ninth, with Spencer Jack picking up the save after an extensive rain delay. In Reed’s three-year UK career on the mound, he has the fourth-best ERA in school history (2.99), with a 16-13 record in 226 innings, allowing 234 hits and 49 walks, striking out 166. In two career games vs. Georgia, Reed has a 1.86 ERA in 9.2 innings, allowing two runs and striking out seven. Last year, Reed picked up a no-decision despite working 8.1 one-run innings, scattering six hits and striking out four. Reed worked in relief at Georgia in 2012, tossing 1.1 innings with three strikeouts.
Last week, UK started Shepherd, a native of Louisa, Ky., on Saturday vs. Auburn, his first SEC start since March 22 after missing 21 days due to an injury. Shepherd has appeared in 12 games with nine starts in 2014, working 63.2 innings, allowing 72 hits and 20 walks, striking out 48. Last Saturday, Shepherd worked two innings vs. Auburn in the start, allowing eight hits and five runs – three earned – walking none and striking out one on 50 pitches. In his decorated three-year career, Shepherd has a 13-4 record and a 3.44 ERA in 56 games, picking up one NCAA Tournament save in 175.1 innings, allowing 53 hits and striking out 120.
UK used Dylan Dwyer last week in his first career rubber-match start, taking a no-decision vs. Auburn. Dwyer has appeared in 13 games with 10 starts in 2014, tossing one complete-game shutout in 55 innings, surrendering 52 hits and 22 walks, striking out 47. On Sunday vs. Auburn, Dwyer worked two innings in a start, allowing three hits and four runs, walking three and striking out one on 46 pitches. In Dwyer’s two-year career, he has worked in 27 games with 10 starts, owning a 5-3 record and a 4.92 ERA in 71.1 innings, striking out 54.
The Wildcats have been paced by an explosive offensive attack in 2014, batting .299 as a team, with a .447 slugging and a .401 on-base percentage. UK has slugged 92 doubles, nine triples and an SEC-leading 52 homers, scoring a league-best 397 runs, while stealing 59 bases. On the mound, UK has a 4.09 ERA in 51 games and 455.2 innings, allowing 157 walks and striking out 322. Defensively, UK has fielded at a .968 clip, turning 49 double plays and allowing 32 steals.
UK has been led at the plate by junior two-way star A.J. Reed, who leads the NCAA in homers (21), slugging (.761) and OPS (1.248). Reed has added 54 runs, 12 doubles, one triple and an SEC-leading 63 RBI, 41 walks and a .487 on-base percentage. All 21 of Reed’s homers have come on the weekends, with 13 coming in SEC action.
UK leftfielder Ka’ai Tom has hit .331 with nine doubles, one homer and 29 RBI, stealing 12 bases and sporting a 19-14 walk-strikeout ratio. First baseman Thomas Bernal has a .329 average with eight doubles, one homer and 25 RBI, stealing five bags. Rightfielder Storm Wilson has hit .318 with five doubles, four homers and 19 RBI, with centerfielder Austin Cousino hitting .311 with 12 doubles, three triples, four homers and 30 RBI, swiping 15 bases. Third baseman Max Kuhn has hit .307 with 13 doubles, six homers and 43 RBI, with catcher Micheal Thomas hitting .295 with seven doubles, one triple, seven homers and 42 RBI. Second baseman JaVon Shelby has hit .267 with six doubles, two triples, four homers and 19 RBI. Outfielder Kyle Barrett owns a .260 average with five doubles, one homer and 18 RBI, stealing 10 bases. Shortstop Matt Reida has hit .231 with six doubles, three homers and 28 RBI.
In relief for the Wildcats junior Spencer Jack (3-1, 1.34 ERA) has a team-high 24 outings, owning three saves in 33.2 innings, surrendering 24 hits and seven walks, striking out 28. Sophomore Kyle Cody (3-0, 2.92 ERA has a team-high five saves in 15 games, working 27.2 innings. Sophomore Zach Strecker (0-1, 4.11 ERA), freshman Zack Brown (0-0, 4.76 ERA), freshman Logan Salow (2-3, 5.16 ERA), sophomore Ryne Combs (1-2, 6.03 ERA) and sophomore Sam Mahar (1-0, 7.53 ERA) have each appeared in double-digit games.
Georgia (25-26-1, 10-16-1 SEC) enters the final weekend of the regular season in the hunt for an SEC Tournament berth, currently owning the last spot in the field, with a half game advantage on Auburn (10-17) and behind half a game of Tennessee and a 1.5 games from UK. The Bulldogs enter the weekend winning four of its last four games, including two wins over No. 7 South Carolina and a win at No. 11 Ole Miss in front of 8,158 fans.
UGA is coming off a 2-0 midweek loss on Tuesday vs. Georgia Tech in front of 21,310 at Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves. In its last home weekend, UGA posted a thrilling series win over No. 7 South Carolina, before suffering a rubber-match loss in 10 innings at No. 11 Ole Miss last weekend.
UGA has hit .256 as a team in 2014, with a .323 slugging and a .349 on-base percentage, owning 69 doubles, six triples, 12 homers and 238 runs, stealing 42 bases. On the mound, the Dawgs have a 4.06 ERA in 465.1 innings, allowing 457 hits and 213 walks, striking out 321. Defensively, UGA has fielded .969, turning 50 double plays and allowing 42-of-54 steals.
The Bulldogs have been led at the dish by star Hunter Cole, who has hit .326 with 14 doubles, two homers and 26 RBI. Nelson Ward has hit .306 with 13 doubles, two triples, two homers and 31 RBI, stealing 10 bases. Conor Welton owns a .289 mark with four doubles, one homer and 16 RBI, with Daniel Nichols hitting .269 with two homers and 18 RBI. Stephen Wrenn, the son of Braves General Manager Frank Wrenn, has hit .251 with 20 RBI and 16 steals, with Jess Posey, the brother of San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey, has hit .185 with a homer and 19 RBI.
Georgia has been paced in relief by a team-best 20 relief outings from Jared Cheek (5-5, 4.05 ERA), who has two saves in 40 innings, allowing 14 walks, and striking out 29. Dylan Cole (1-0, 3.09 ERA), Ross Ripple (2-1, 3.48 ERA), Patrick Boling (3-4, 4.76 ERA), Jarrett Brown (1-1, 6.04 ERA), Pete Nagel (1-0, 7.56 ERA) and David Gonzalez (0-0, 2.38 ERA) have each appeared in double-digit games.
UGA leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 126-88-1, including a 65-34 all-time mark in games played in Athens. UK has won the last three series meetings after Georgia won eight consecutive games in the series from 2008-10. UK has won four of the last five games, the best stretch vs. the Bulldogs since UK won five straight meetings in 1976.
In the last meeting between the two schools, UK posted a series win over Georgia in Lexington. The Wildcats posted a 3-2 win over Georgia in 10 innings in the series opener, as Max Kuhn drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the walk-off run. UK got 8.1 innings of one-run pitching from A.J. Reed, who allowed just a single tally to UGA in the fifth inning, the go-ahead run, before UK rallied to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Trevor Gott came on in relief and allowed one run in 1.2 innings, the tying run in the ninth inning on a two-out, two-strike pinch-hit single from Jess Posey, picking up his third win of the year. Sean McLaughlin worked for UGA, allowing two runs in eight innings, tossing 118 pitches. Jarrett Brown tossed 1.1 shutout innings and Jared Walsh came on from rightfield to suffer the loss, walking three. UGA evened up the series on Saturday, taking a 7-3 lead into the eighth inning, before UK rallied to make it 7-6. Patrick Boling started for UGA, allowing three runs in 5.2 innings. Jerad Grundy started for UK, allowing two earned runs in 5.1 innings, walking five on 79 pitches. Chandler Shepherd, Dylan Dwyer, Zach Strecker, Kyle Cody, Ryne Combs and Walter Wijas each worked in relief. UK got a four-hit game from J.T. Riddle in the loss. The Wildcats won the rubber match on Sunday behind seven shutout innings from Corey Littrell, who fanned 12 on 119 pitches, walking two. Wijas and Gott worked the final two innings, surrendering just one hit. Bryan Benzor started for UGA, allowing five runs in four innings. Ross Ripple and Brown worked the final four shutout innings.