LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Kentucky baseball team will play 31 games against teams in the 2012 NCAA Tournament field and 24 games against 2012 top-50 RPI teams, as part of a challenging 2013 schedule, it was announced Tuesday by fifth-year UK head coach Gary Henderson.
Kentucky will play a grueling 56-game schedule in 2013, as the Wildcats will face a 2012 NCAA Tournament team 31 times, or 55-percent of its schedule and will face the rugged 30-game Southeastern Conference slate. UK’s 2013 schedule features a combined record of its opponents at 910-747 (55-percent), with UK playing 33 games at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
“We have put together a great schedule for the 2013 season,” Henderson said. “After taking a big step forward in 2012, we are looking forward to continuing the progress in 2013. It will be nice to have 33 games at Cliff Hagan for our fans who will once again really enjoy watching this team compete on a daily basis.”
UK will play 23 games away from Cliff Hagan Stadium, including playing a total of nine games on the road against College World Series teams from 2012. A total of 63-perecent (35 games) of UK’s 2013 schedule will come against teams in the 2012 top-100 in the RPI.
The Wildcats will open the 2013 season for the fifth consecutive year in the Palmetto State, traveling to Spartanburg, S.C., to take on UNC Asheville (25-30) on Feb. 15 at Wofford. UK will also play at USC Upstate (33-20) on Feb. 16 and against Niagara (19-29) at Wofford on Feb. 17 to round out opening weekend.
Kentucky will return to South Carolina the following weekend for the Coastal Carolina tournament in Myrtle Beach at Pelicans Park. UK will face Elon (33-26) on Friday, Feb. 22, before facing Coastal Carolina (42-19) on Feb. 23 and Big 12 foe Kansas State (27-31) on Feb. 24 to round out the trip to Myrtle Beach.
“It is always good to get to hit the road with a team to open the year,” Henderson said. “We have had the chance to go to South Carolina for the last five years and it is a good opportunity to get the team together on the road and play some challenging teams to get the first two weeks going.”
Following the pair of South Carolina trips, the Wildcats will open up the 2013 home schedule at Cliff Hagan Stadium with an 11-game homestand, beginning with Murray State (23-33) on Feb. 25 and Eastern Kentucky (31-23) on Feb. 27.
UK’s first home series will be against the Akron Zips (17-38) of the Mid-American Conference on March 1-3 at Cliff Hagan, with the Saturday game slated as a doubleheader. UK will then host Cincinnati (18-38) in an annual rivalry matchup on March 5 and host Xavier (28-28) on March 6.
Michigan State (37-23), an NCAA Tournament team from 2012, will come to town for UK’s pre-SEC weekend tune-up on March 8-10, with UK facing Ohio (28-29) on March 12 for its final non-league tune-up before SEC play starts.
“Facing Michigan State will be a great prep for SEC play,” Henderson said. “The Spartans had a great season in the Big Ten last year and will be a stiff test before we hit the road for conference play.”
The Wildcats will kick off SEC play on March 15-17, traveling to Gainesville, Fla., to take on the Florida Gators (47-20). UK will face SEC road opponents LSU (47-18) on April 5-7, South Carolina (49-20) on April 19-21, Ole Miss (37-26) on April 26-28 and Missouri (33-28) on May 16-18.
“Playing in the SEC is the greatest challenge in college baseball,” Henderson said. “There are no off weekends; every day is an absolute grind. Our team will be tested every weekend and each contest with put us up against one of the nation’s top teams. There is nothing else like it and our guys will be ready for the challenge.”
UK’s home SEC weekends will include Mississippi State (40-24) on March 22-24, Georgia (31-26) on March 29-31, Tennessee (24-31) on May 3-5 and Vanderbilt (35-28) on May 10-12.
UK will play a home-and-home with Western Kentucky (25-33) on March 19 at Cliff Hagan and April 23 in Bowling Green, Ky. The Wildcats will also travel to Louisville (41-22) on April 2 and host the Cardinals on April 16. UK will also host non-league matchups with Marshall (17-37) on March 26, Austin Peay (40-24) on April 9, Indiana on May 14 and Wright State (37-21) on May 7.
Following the trip to Missouri to conclude the 2013 regular season, the SEC Tournament will return to Hoover, Ala., on May 21-26 at Regions Park.
The Wildcats return one of the top teams in college baseball in 2013, a year removed from a historic season. UK won a school-record 45 games and matched its best finish in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments in program history. UK finished the year with a school-record nine players picked in the 2012 MLB Draft, the second-most in the NCAA, and led the nation with nine players in the Cape Cod League or on the USA National Team.
UK returns a bevy of talent in 2013, including consensus first-team All-America two-way star A.J. Reed, 2012 SEC Freshman of the Year and USA National Team leading hitter Austin Cousino and All-SEC starting pitcher Corey Littrell. Led by Henderson, the 2012 SEC Coach of the Year, UK returns the bulk of a stout bullpen that helped the Wildcats to a 40-0 record when leading after seven innings a year ago and shattered the team record for saves in a season.