LEXINGTON, Ky. -- For the first time in program history, the No. 17 Kentucky baseball team will face off with a top-five foe in consecutive weekends, traveling to No. 5 Vanderbilt for a three-game series, with the opener slated for 7:30 p.m. ET at Charles Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn. The series will resume on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET and conclude on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
The three games will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with Dick Gabriel calling the action. Fans in Lexington and hear the games live on either WLAP 630-AM or WWTF 1580-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. The Sunday game will be televised live on ESPNU.
Kentucky will be facing off with top-five teams on back-to-back weekends for the first time in UK history, with records dating back to 2003.
The series will pit Kentucky – the nation leader in runs scored – against a stout Vanderbilt pitching staff that entered the week ranked as the NCAA leader in fewest hits allowed per nine innings pitched. Last week, UK posted a series win over No. 1 South Carolina, the NCAA leader in ERA, marking the third all-time UK series win over a No. 1 ranked foe.
UK will use its weekend rotation of junior southpaw A.J. Reed (4-1, 2.20 ERA) on Friday, junior righty Chandler Shepherd (5-0, 2.20 ERA) on Saturday and junior right-hander Andrew Nelson (1-1, 2.89 ERA) on Sunday. Vanderbilt will counter with first-team preseason All-American and 2013 SEC Pitcher of the Year Tyler Beede (4-2, 2.06 ERA) on Friday, junior standout southpaw Jared Miller (5-1, 1.26 ERA) on Saturday and sophomore righty Tim Ferguson (4-0, 1.34 ERA) on Sunday.
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed will be making his 21st consecutive series-opening start for the Wildcats and his seventh to open 2014. A 6-foot-4, 240-pounder, Reed has worked 41 innings, allowing 31 hits and 13 walks, striking out 22 and holding opponents to a .209 average. In his three-year career, Reed has an 11-12 record and a 3.15 ERA in 36 games and 25 starts, working 177 innings, walking 37 and striking out 125. On Friday vs. No. 1 South Carolina, Reed picked up his second win over a top-ranked team in 2014, working eight strong innings, allowing nine hits and three earned runs, not issuing and walk, striking out two and throwing 117 pitches. Reed allowed a single USC run in the top of the first inning after a leadoff double, before working four consecutive shutout frames as UK grabbed a 13-1 lead after five innings. In 2013 vs. Vanderbilt in Lexington, Reed – who entered the start with a 2.84 ERA – had the worst outing of his decorated career, allowing 12 hits and 10 runs in five innings, not issuing and walk and striking out one, hitting two batters and surrendering two homers and four doubles. Beede, the 2013 SEC Pitcher of the Year, has made six series-opening starts for VU in 2014, working 35 innings, allowing 20 hits and 11 walks, striking out 42. On Friday at No. 21 Mississippi State, Beede worked 2.2 innings, allowing six hits and 11 runs – five earned – walking five and striking out two, as the VU defense made five errors. In 2013 at Kentucky in the middle game of the series, Beede improved to 13-0 with 5.1 innings, allowing two hits and two runs – one earned – walking five and striking out five. As a freshman in Nashville vs. UK in 2012, Beede worked seven shutout innings, scattering four hits and four walks, striking out eight, despite opening the first inning with 11 consecutive balls to UK hitters.
Shepherd, a native of Louisa, Ky., has made six consecutive middle-of-the-series starts for the Wildcats in 2014. A 6-foot-2, 185-pound righty, Shepherd has worked 41 innings, allowing 34 hits and 10 walks, striking out a team-leading 32 and holding opponents to a .215 average. Shepherd owns the UK career record for winning percentage with career mark, owning a 3.01 ERA in 50 games and 16 starts. On Saturday in a win over No. 1 South Carolina, Shepherd pitched a gem, working 7.1 innings, allowing six hits and one run, walking four and striking out six on 116 pitches. Shepherd worked a 2-0 game into the eighth inning vs. the Gamecocks, exiting with one out and two runners in scoring position, with the UK bullpen allowing one run to score to erase Shepherd’s shutout. In his career vs. South Carolina, Shepherd has appeared in two games in relief, in 2012 and 2013, working a combined 1.1 innings, allowing five hits and one run. Jared Miller has made six starts for VU in 2014, working 35.2 innings, allowing 19 hits and 12 walks, striking out 26 and holding opponents to a .154 average. On Saturday in a nationally televised tilt at No. 21 Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Miller worked 4.1 innings, allowing four hits and four runs – three earned – walking five and striking out two in his first loss of the year.
A native of Omaha, Neb., Nelson has appeared in seven games with four starts, including three consecutive starts to conclude a weekend series. Nelson has worked 28 innings, allowing 25 hits and four walks, striking out 19, with foes batting .240. In his last start on Sunday vs. No. 1 South Carolina, Nelson suffered his first career loss, going 5.1 innings, allowing five hits and five runs – four earned – walking two and equaling his career high with five strikeouts. Nelson allowed single South Carolina runs in the second and fifth innings to fall behind, before being chased from the game with a three-run top of the sixth inning. Ferguson has made six starts for Vandy in 2014, working 33.2 innings, allowing 16 hits and 10 walks, striking out 28 with opponents hitting .143. In his last start on Sunday at No. 21 Mississippi State, Ferguson worked 6.1 innings, allowing five hits and one run, walking one and striking out six.
Kentucky (18-7, 3-3 SEC) is coming off a midweek 9-6 win over Xavier on Wednesday in a game that was pushed back from Tuesday due to inclement weather. UK got pitching appearances from seven players in the win, with the Wildcat offense getting RBI from seven different players, including a two-hit, game from Dorian Hairston, who also tripled.
Last week, the Wildcats faced off with the high-octane Gamecocks in a three-game series that matched up UK, the NCAA leader in runs scored, and South Carolina, the nation’s leader with a 1.36 team ERA. UK exploded for 13 runs in the series opener, before getting a tight 2-1 win over the Gamecocks in the series decider on Saturday. Sunday, Kentucky got down in a 2-0 hole after five innings, with USC getting three-run frames in the sixth and ninth innings to secure the win. In midweek action, UK posted a 10-3 win over Western Kentucky on Tuesday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Wildcats notched their second and third wins over Baseball America No. 1 ranked teams in the first 24 games, also besting top-ranked Virginia in the season opener on Feb. 14. Kentucky now has six wins over No. 1 ranked foes in the last four years of the Gary Henderson era, with UK’s series win over the top-ranked Gamecocks marking the third series win over a No. 1 foe in program history (1991 vs. LSU; 2012 vs. LSU; 2014 vs. South Carolina). UK posted 18 runs during the three-game series with the Gamecocks, which is 58 percent of the total amount of runs USC had allowed in its first 19 games of 2014 entering the weekend. In addition, UK stole six bases in the series with USC – including five on Friday night – with the Gamecocks entering the weekend having allowed just four steals in eight attempts.
UK enters the week as the NCAA leader in runs scored for the third consecutive week. The Wildcats have hit .314 as a team, with a .464 slugging and a .420 on-base percentage, slugging 21 homers and stealing 47 bases. Defensively, UK has fielded .963, turning 22 double plays and allowing just 10 stolen bases. On the mound, UK has a 2.87 ERA as a team, with two saves in 223 innings, walking 68 and striking out 166, with opponents hitting .227.
The Wildcats have been led at the plate by senior catcher Micheal Thomas – the current SEC Player of the Week. Thomas leads the SEC with a .400 average, adding seven doubles, five homers and 29 RBI, stealing two bases. Junior A.J. Reed has hit .372 with five doubles, one triple, nine homers and 33 RBI, owning a .518 on-base percentage and a .767 slugging mark to lead the conference. Junior centerfielder Austin Cousino has hit .361 with nine doubles, two triples, two homers and 17 RBI, stealing an SEC-leading 11 bases. Leftfielder Ka’ai Tom has hit .328 with four doubles, 10 RBI and eight steals, with third baseman Max Kuhn batting .324 with nine doubles, two homers and 21 RBI. Rightfielder Kyle Barrett has batted .305 with five doubles, one homer and 15 RBI, stealing 10 bases. First baseman Thomas Bernal has hit .270 with 10 RBI, while second baseman JaVon Shelby has a .224 average with four doubles, one triple, two homers and eight RBI. Shortstop Matt Reida has hit .215 with three doubles and 14 RBI, with infielder Connor Heady batting .132 with three doubles, 10 RBI and a .300 on-base percentage.
In relief the Wildcats have been led by junior Spencer Jack (1-0, 0.57 ERA), who has a save in 12 relief appearances, tossing 15.2 innings, allowing 10 hits and three walks, striking out 12. Freshman Logan Salow (1-1, 1.04 ERA) has a save in eight appearances, striking out 12 in 8.2 innings. Junior Kyle Cody (3-0, 1.17 ERA) has appeared in five games with three starts, with Zach Strecker (0-1, 2.84 ERA), Ryne Combs (1-1, 3.50 ERA) and Sam Mahar (1-0, 7.04 ERA) each appearing in at least seven games. Freshman Zack Brown (0-01, 1.69 ERA) and sophomore southpaws Dylan Dwyer (1-1, 4.24 ERA) and Matt Snyder (0-0, 6.23 ERA) have each appeared in five games.
UK ranks throughout the SEC stats checking in as the league leader in average (.314), slugging (.464), on-base percentage (.420), runs (231), RBI (199), homers (21) and total bases (405). UK ranks second in hits (274), doubles (56) and HBP (48), ranking third in walks (119) and steals (42). Individually, Micheal Thomas leads the SEC in average (.400), ranking second in slugging (.675), third in on-base percentage (.479), 12th in hits (32), third in RBI (29), third in homers (five) and fifth in total bases (54). A.J. Reed ranks as the SEC leader in slugging (.767), on-base percentage (.518), RBI (33), homers (nine) and total bases (66). Reed also ranks sixth in average (.372), third in runs (29), 12th in hits (32), third in walks (20), sixth in hit by pitches (seven), sixth in innings pitched (41) and eighth in wins (four). Austin Cousino ranks 10th in the SEC in average (.361), ninth in slugging (.537), second in runs (30), first in hits (39), seventh in doubles (nine), fourth in triples (two), second in total bases (58) and first in steals (11). Max Kuhn ranks as the SEC leader in runs (33), ranking seventh in on-base percentage (.448), ninth in hits (33), seventh in RBI (21), seventh in doubles (nine), 11th in total bases (48) and second in walks (21). Chandler Shepherd ranks as the SEC leader in wins (five).
Vanderbilt (21-5, 3-3 SEC) is coming off a midweek 2-1 win over Belmont on Tuesday, after suffering its first series loss of the year at No. 21 Mississippi State last weekend in front of a raucous crowd at Dudy Noble Field.
The Dores have hit .280 as a team in 2014, with a .388 slugging and a .371 on-base percentage, stealing 41 bases. Defensively, VU has fielded .975, turning 22 double plays and allowing 20-of-28 steals. On the mound, Vandy has a staggering 1.90 team ERA in 26 games, saving 10 in 232 innings, walking 82 and striking out 245. The Dores rank as the NCAA leader in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (5.61), while ranking sixth in ERA and fourth in the nation and as the league leader in strikeouts per nine innings (9.4).
At the plate, VU has been led by Bryan Reynolds, who has hit a team-best .347 with 10 doubles, one triple, two homers and 22 RBI. Dansby Swanson has hit .333 with 11 doubles, one homer and 11 RBI, stealing a team-high 11 bases. Shortstop Vince Conde has hit .304 with five doubles, one homer and 15 RBI. First baseman Zander Wiel has a .303 average with nine doubles, two triples, one homer and 15 RBI. Third baseman Xavier Turner has a .299 average with six doubles and 13 RBI. Nolan Rogers has hit .255 with three doubles and 10 RBI, while Rhett Wiseman has hit .253 with six doubles and 12 RBI.
In relief for the Dores, career and single-season record holder Brian Miller (0-0, 0.68 ERA) has appeared in 13 games with two saves in 13.1 innings, striking out 14. Flame-thrower Carson Fulmer (0-0, 1.42 ERA) has appeared in 10 games with seven saves in 19 innings, striking out 27. Hayden Stone (1-0, 0.47 ERA) has appeared in nine games and worked 19.1 innings, with a staggering 32 strikeouts in 19.1 innings, allowing just seven hits – five singles. Adam Ravenelle (2-0, 1.64 ERA) has appeared in nine games in relief, with T.J. Pecoraro (1-1, 8.71 ERA) working in six games and 10.1 innings.
UK leads the all-time series with Vanderbilt, 141-136-5, with Vanderbilt leading the series in Nashville, 73-61-4. Vanderbilt has won five consecutive meetings in the series, with UK’s last win coming in 2012 in Nashville. UK last won a series with Vanderbilt in 2009 in Lexington, with its last series win in Nashville coming in 2008.
In the last meeting in Lexington in 2013, the Commodores swept UK in the next to last weekend series of the regular season. After Friday night was postponed for weather, the two teams played a doubleheader on Saturday, with VU opening the series with an 11-3 win, getting a seven-run top of the seventh inning. Kevio Ziomek pitched for the Dores, working six innings and allowing one earned run, with Walker Buehler getting the three-inning save. UK started A.J. Reed, who allowed 10 runs on 12 hits in five innings. UK got a three-hit game from J.T. Riddle and two hits each from Austin Cousino and Kyle Barrett. Vanderbilt got a two-hit, three-RBI game from Connor Harrell, who belted two homers. In the nightcap of the doubleheader, UK turned to Kyle Cody for his second career SEC start, with Cody working six innings and allowing three runs in a hard-luck loss to VU and Tyler Beede. Beede worked 5.1 innings, allowing two runs to improve to 13-0, with Conrad Gregor charting three hits. Carson Fulmer worked 3.1 innings in relief, with Jared Miller notching his first save of the year with the final out of the game in a 5-3 VU win as UK plated a run in the ninth. In the series finale, Vanderbilt posted a 10-5 win behind five unanswered runs after the fifth inning. Corey Littrell took the loss for UK in 6.2 innings, allowing eight runs, with T.J. Pecoraro working 4.1 innings in a start for the Dores. Spencer Navin had three hits for VU, with Gregor belting a homer and UK getting a three-hit game from Cousino.
In 2012 in the meeting in Nashville, Vanderbilt won the series with the Wildcats, who entered the weekend ranked No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball poll for the first time in school history. UK won the opener 5-2 behind a strong start from Taylor Rogers and a 3.1 inning save from Alex Phillips, with Austin Cousino going 3-for-5 with a homer. T.J. Pecoraro started for VU, going 1.2 innings and allowing four runs. Brian Miller worked in relief for VU, allowing one unearned run in 3.2 innings. Vanderbilt evened up the series with a 4-3 win on Saturday, as UK rallied with three runs to tie the game in the top of the eighth inning, before VU got a run in the bottom of the frame. Jerad Grundy started for UK, working 5.2 innings and allowing three runs. Sam Mahar suffered the loss with one run allowed in 1.1 innings. Tyler Beede worked seven shutout innings after throwing 11 straight balls to open the game. UK got two-hit games from Cousino and Luke Maile, with VU’s Spencer Navin belting a homer. In the rubber match on Sunday, Kevin Ziomek pitched a gem in 5.2 shutout innings, with UK’s Corey Littrell working 5.1 innings and allowing just one run. Phillips suffered the loss as Trevor Gott allowed a go-ahead grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 1-1 game. Flame-throwing lefty Sam Selmen picked up the win for VU with 2.1 innings of relief.
UK and Vanderbilt rank throughout the polls as consensus top-25 teams. UK ranks as high as No. 17 in the Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game polls. UK also ranks No. 19 by Baseball America and USA Today/ESPN, also ranking No. 21 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top 30. Vanderbilt ranks as high as No. 5 in the Collegiate Baseball and USA Today/ESPN polls, also ranking No. 6 in the NCBWA top 30 and No. 7 in Baseball America.
Head coach: Tim Corbin (12th year)
2013 record/SEC finish: 54-12, 26-3 SEC/first
Final RPI: No. 2
Final ranking: No. 9 (Baseball America)
Postseason: (0-2) NCAA Nashville Super Regional
Key returning position players: 3B Xavier Turner (.324/.387/.370, 36 RBI, 22-27 SB), SS Vince Conde (.307/.380/.458, 6 HR, 44 RBI)
Key returning pitchers: RHP Tyler Beede (14-1, 2.32 ERA, 17 GS, 101 IP, 103 SO), RHP Brian Miller (5-2, 1.58 ERA, 32 APP, 16 SV, 57 IP, 48 SO), LHP Jared Miller (2-1, 2.31 ERA, 22 APP, 2 SV, 23.1 IP, 24 SO), RHP Carson Fulmer (3-0, 2.39 ERA, 26 APP, 4 SV, 52.2 IP, 51 SO), LHP Steven Rice (4-0, 2.57 ERA, 21 APP, 35 IP, 28 SO), RHP Walker Buehler (4-3, 3.14 ERA, 16 APP, 9 GS, 1 SV, 63 IP, 57 SO), RHP T.J. Pecoraro (4-1, 5.97 ERA, 10 APP, 7 GS, 1 SV, 34.2 IP, 15 SO)
Key position player losses: 2B Tony Kemp (.391/.471/.485, 33 RBI, 34-48 SB), OF Mike Yastrzemski (.312/.411/.449, 3 HR, 43 RBI, 20-27 SB), CF Connor Harrell (.312/.318/.530, 12 HR, 67 RBI), 1B Conrad Gregor (.308/.440/.410, 3 HR, 48 RBI, 21-24 SB), C Spencer Navin (.302/.430/.396, 4 HR, 34 RBI), OF Jack Lupo (.297/.352/.354, 24 RBI, 15-17 SB)
Key pitcher losses: LHP Kevin Ziomek (11-3, 2.12 ERA, 17 GS, 119 IP, 115 SO)
Series record: UK leads 141-136-5, including 71-52-1 in Lexington
Last meeting: Vanderbilt swept series in Lexington in 2013
Kentucky – 18-7, 3-3 SEC
Vanderbilt – 21-5, 3-3 SEC
Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change)
at No. 5 Vanderbilt * Friday, March 28 * 7:30 p.m.
at No. 5 Vanderbilt * Saturday, March 29 * 3 p.m.
at No. 5 Vanderbilt * Sunday, March 30 * 2 p.m. [ESPNU]
Radio (UK IMG Network with Dick Gabriel)
Friday, March 28
• WWTF 1580-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
Saturday, March 29
• WLAP 630-AM in Central Kentucky
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
Sunday, March 30
• WWTF 1580-AM OR WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
• WKJK 1080-AM in Louisville
Tentative Pitching Matchups
Friday at Vanderbilt
Jr., LHP A.J. Reed (4-1, 2.20 ERA) vs. Jr., RHP Tyler Beede (4-2, 2.06 ERA)
Saturday at Vanderbilt
Jr., RHP Chandler Shepherd (5-0, 2.20 ERA) vs. Jr., LHP Jared Miller (5-1, 1.26 ERA)
Sunday at Vanderbilt
Jr., RHP Andrew Nelson (1-1, 2.89 ERA) vs. So., RHP Tim Ferguson (4-0, 1.34 ERA)