LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Winners of its first three series to open Southeastern Conference play, No. 7 Kentucky completes its four-game road trip by traveling to No. 2 LSU for a three-game, top-10 showdown, with first pitch of game one on Friday set for 8 p.m. ET at Alex Box Stadium. The series will resume on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET and conclude on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
All 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 games live on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. All three games will be televised with the Friday and Saturday games live on CST and the series finale televised live on CSS and available on ESPN3.com.
Kentucky (22-6, 6-3 SEC) will be meeting LSU in a colossal clash at Alex Box Stadium, just a year removed from a series that saw the two teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation. LSU enters the series ranked as high as No. 2, sporting a staggering 20-1 record at home, winners of nine consecutive games and leading the SEC race by two games.
The Wildcats will send its regular weekend rotation to the mound of sophomore southpaw A.J. Reed (2-3, 2. 57 ERA) on Friday, senior lefty Jerad Grundy (5-2, 2.15 ERA) and junior left-hander Corey Littrell (4-0, 2.17 ERA). The Tigers will counter with sophomore right-hander Aaron Nola (4-0, 2.74 ERA) on Friday and junior righty Ryan Eades (6-0, 1.35 ERA) on Saturday. The Tigers have yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday.
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed is starring both ways for the Wildcats and will be making his eighth start of the 2013 season on Friday. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder has worked 42 innings in 2013, allowing 43 hits and eight walks, striking out 30. In his two-year career on the mound, Reed has worked 23 games with 12 starts, tossing 95.2 innings, walking just 17 and striking out 68. In his last start on Friday night vs. Georgia, Reed turned in his best career start, hurling 8.1 innings – a career-high for a start – allowing six hits and one run, not surrendering a walk and striking out four. One of the top sophomores in college baseball, Nola has started seven games for LSU in 2013, tossing 46 innings, allowing 37 hits and seven walks, striking out 55. In his start vs. UK in 2012, Nola has worked five innings, allowing seven hits and four runs, not walking a hitter and striking out seven, as UK got a three-run inning in the third and a run in the fourth.
Grundy, a native of Johnsburg, Ill., has made seven middle-of-the-weekend starts for UK in 2013. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound southpaw has worked a staff-high 46 innings, allowing only 32 hits and 13 walks, striking out 42. In his two-year UK career, Grundy has made 23 weekend starts, posting a 11-5 record and a 3.21 ERA, tossing 131.2 innings, allowing 111 hits, walking 49 and striking out 105. In his last start vs. Georgia on Saturday, Grundy worked 5.1 innings, allowing five hits and four runs – two earned – walking a career-high five and striking out four on 79 pitches. In his start vs. No. 1 LSU in 2012, Grundy was great, working six innings, allowing six hits and one run, walking three and striking out three in a UK series-evening win. Eades, a junior righty who has become one of the top starters in the nation, has started seven games, tossing 46.2 innings, allowing 46 hits and 12 walks, striking out 45. In his start vs. UK in 2012, Eades worked 3.1 innings, allowing nine hits and six runs, walking two and striking out one on 74 pitches.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Littrell will be making his eighth start of the year on Sunday. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound lefty has hurled 45.2 innings, allowing 37 hits and 16 walks, striking out 47. In his three-year career, Littrell has made 39 appearances and 36 starts, with a 19-8 record and a 3.97 ERA. In 213 career innings, Littrell has allowed 231 hits and 70 walks, striking out 185. With 18 career wins, Littrell ranks ninth in UK history. In his last start vs. Georgia, Littrell starred in a rubber-match win. He worked seven shutout innings, allowing only three singles and two walks, striking out a career-high 12 and working into the eighth inning of a 5-0 win. In a 2012 start vs. No. 1 LSU, Littrell worked 5.1 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs, walking two and striking out four. The Tigers plated a run in the second and two runs in the fourth and sixth off Littrell, with UK rallying for a 7-6 win in the rubber-match.
Kentucky is coming off series wins over Florida, No. 14 Mississippi State and Georgia to open league action. On Tuesday, UK posted a 10-inning 5-4 win at No. 9 Louisville, in front of a UL school-record crowd and behind a strong pitching performance from freshman righty Kyle Cody (2-1, 5.48 ERA).
The Wildcats have hit .286 as a team, with a .408 slugging and a .397 on-base percentage, stealing 37 bases and belting 18 homers. UK has a 2.46 ERA on the mound, tossing 252 innings, walking 67 and striking out 214. Defensively, the Wildcats have a .969 fielding percentage, turning 29 double plays, picking off six runners and allowing only nine steals in 17 chances.
UK has been led offensively by junior second baseman J.T. Riddle, who has hit .352 with six doubles, one triple, one homer and 17 RBI, sporting a 14-4 walk-strikeout ratio and stealing four bases. Reed has hit .333 with four doubles, two triples, seven homers and 30 RBI. Freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett has hit .333 with three doubles, five RBI and three steals. All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino has a .309 average with eight doubles, one triple, four homers and 20 RBI, stealing eight bases. Catcher Micheal Thomas has added a .273 average, with two homers and 18 RBI, while infielder Max Kuhn has a .272 mark, with seven doubles, one triple, two homers and 21 RBI, stealing five bases and owning a 24-16 walk-strikeout ratio. Third baseman Paul McConkey has hit .259 with four doubles, one triple, one homer and 11 RBI.
In the bullpen, junior righty Trevor Gott (4-0, 1.06 ERA) has appeared in a team-high 14 games, saving seven games and tossing 17 innings, with three walks and 20 strikeouts. Senior righty Walter Wijas (2-0, 0.60 ERA) has appeared in 13 games and tossed 15 innings, with freshman right-hander Zach Strecker (1-0, 1.12 ERA) appearing in 10 games. Sophomore right-hander Chandler Shepherd (1-0, 3.86 ERA) has appeared in 111 games and worked 25.2 innings, with freshmen lefties Ryne Combs (0-0, 1.20 ERA) and Dylan Dwyer (1-0, 1.23 ERA) appearing in at least eight games.
LSU (27-2, 8-1 SEC) is off to the best start since 1986, as the Tigers have rolled through their early season schedule and won eight of nine games against SEC foes Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn. The Tigers have been paced by the SEC’s top offensive unit, batting .308, slugging .450 and reaching base at a .402 clip. LSU has belted 27 homers, scored 203 runs and stolen 31 bases. On the mound, LSU has a 2.49 ERA in 264 innings, walking 72 and striking out 241. LSU has fielded .981, turned 29 double plays and picked off four runners, allowing 19-of-26 stolen base attempts.
LSU currently boasts the NCAA frontrunners for player of the year and freshman of the year. Slugger Mason Katz leads the nation in RBI, batting .430 with six doubles, two triples, an SEC-leading 13 homers and 49 RBI. Freshman shortstop Alex Bergman is the SEC’s leading hitter, batting .440 with nine doubles, three triples, three homers and 24 RBI, stealing nine bases. Reigning SEC Player of the Year Raph Rhymes has hit .336, with seven doubles, two homers and 25 RBI, a year after hitting .431 with 53 RBI. Mark Laird has hit .330 with three doubles, with Christian Ibarra hitting .330 with five doubles, three homers and 20 RBI. Preseason All-American JaCoby Jones has hit .188 with three doubles, two homers and 10 RBI, stealing nine bases. Catcher Ty Ross has hit .179 with two homers and nine RBI.
In the bullpen, LSU has been paced by closer Chris Cotton (1-0, 1.47 ERA), a former lefty specialist. Cotton has eight saves in a staff-high 17 outings, striking out 25 and walking only one hitter in 18.1 innings. Joey Bourgeois (2-0, 2.40 ERA) has appeared in 16 games, with Kevin Berry (2-0, 1.00 ERA), Hunter Devall (2-0, 1.35 ERA), Brent Bonvillain (2-0, 2.18 ERA), Nick Rumbelow (1-0, 3.27 ERA) and Will LaMarche (1-0, 4.38 ERA) each appearing in double-digit games.
Kentucky moved up to as high as No. 7 in the Baseball America top 25 poll this week, also checking in No. 9 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and No. 10 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top 25. LSU is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN/USA Today, Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA polls and No. 3 by Baseball America.
LSU leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 43-25-1, including a 23-7-1 all-time mark in games played in Baton Rouge. UK won the last series in 2012, with LSU sweeping the 2011 meeting in Baton Rouge. UK swept in 2010 in Lexington.
In the series vs. LSU in 2012, UK lost the opener, 5-4 and rebounded to win the final two games of the series, 8-1 on Saturday and 7-6 on Sunday. In the opener, LSU opened up to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, getting a run in the fourth and two in the fifth. UK rallied with a run in the second and tied the game with two runs in the fourth, before getting a run down two in the sixth. UK started lefty Taylor Rogers, who worked six innings, allowing eight hits and five runs – three earned – walking two and striking out four. Shepherd worked three shutout frames in relief, allowing only two hits and striking out three. UK got 10 hits in the game, including a 3-for-4 game from Zac Zellers and two hits from Cameron Flynn and Riddle. LSU ace right-hander Kevin Gausman was stellar despite scattering 10 hits in seven innings, walking just one, allowing four runs and striking out 11. Nick Goody came on and got the three-strikeout save, after Cotton worked a shutout eighth. In the Saturday game, Grundy worked six strong innings, allowing just six hits and one run, with lefty Alex Phillips tossing three shutout innings for the save. Eades was roughed up in the 3.1 inning start for LSU, allowing nine hits and six runs, with Bonvillain worked 3.2 frames in relief. UK got three-RBI each from Cousino and Luke Maile, with Thomas McCarthy and Michael Williams each notching two hits. Cousino hit his seventh homer of the year in his 2-for-5 outing. In the series finale, LSU jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second, before UK rallied with three in the third. LSU tied the game in the fourth and took a 5-4 lead with two runs in the sixth. UK rallied with three in the sixth and held off a late LSU charge for the 7-6 rubber-match win. Littrell had a rocky start, allowing eight hits and five runs in 5.2 innings. Tim Peterson and Phillips worked in relief, with Phillips getting the save in two frames without an earned run. UK got three hits and two steals from Cousino, with Zellers belting his fifth homer.