LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Coming off a historic series win at Florida to open Southeastern Conference play, No. 8 Kentucky will open its home league schedule by welcoming No. 14 Mississippi State for a three-game series, with first pitch on Friday set for 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The series will resume on Saturday at 12 p.m. ET and conclude on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
All three games will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with Dick Gabriel 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. The game on Saturday will be televised live on Fox Sports, with Bob Kesling and Nick Belmonte calling the action.
Kentucky (16-4, 2-1 SEC) is coming off the series win at Florida to open conference play, its first series win in Gainesville since 1999. UK then suffered a 6-3 midweek loss to Western Kentucky on Tuesday, as the Hilltoppers plated three runs in the first and held off a late UK rally for the win.
UK will send its regular weekend rotation of sophomore southpaw A.J. Reed (2-2, 2.84 ERA) to the mound on Friday, senior lefty Jerad Grundy (4-1, 1.93 ERA) on Saturday and junior left-hander Corey Littrell (3-0, 2.84 ERA) to the mound on Sunday. Mississippi State will counter with dynamic sophomore southpaw Jacob Lindgren (2-0, 1.85 ERA) on Friday, junior righty Evan Mitchell (0-1, 2.75 ERA) on Saturday and senior right-hander Kendall Graveman (2-1, 2.36 ERA) on Sunday.
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed has made five Friday-night starts for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder has worked 28.2 innings, allowing 30 hits and five walks, striking out 21. In Reed’s two-year UK career, he has a 7-5 record and a 2.62 ERA in 82.1 innings, walking 14 and striking out 72. Last Friday night at Florida, Reed turned in one of his best career starts in a hard-luck loss. He worked 6.1 innings and allowed six hits and four runs – one earned – walking one and striking out five. Reed took a 1-1 game into the seventh inning before UK committed three errors to allow the three decisive unearned runs to cross the plate in the 4-1 UF win. Lindgren has made five series-opening starts, working 24.1 innings and allowing only 15 hits and four walks, striking out 29. Last Friday night vs. LSU, Lindgren worked 5.2 innings, allowing five hits and three runs, striking out seven. Lindgren worked 5.1 innings in relief against UK in the regular-season finale in 2012, allowing three hits and one run, striking out seven.
Grundy, a native of Johnsburg, Ill., has made five starts on the weekend for UK in 2013, The 6-foot-1, 200-pound lefty has worked in 32.2 innings, allowing only 21 hits and eight walks, striking out 28 and holding opponents to a .184 average. In his two-year UK career Grundy has made 21 weekend starts, hurling 118.1 innings, walking 44 and striking out 91. In Grundy’s last start, he worked his fourth quality start of the season, tossing six innings, allowing six hits and three runs, walking four in 82 pitches. Grundy allowed three runs on five hits in the first two innings, before settling down to allow just one run over the last four innings as UK rallied for the comeback win. Grundy made two starts vs. Mississippi State last year, one in Starkville to conclude the regular season and one in the SEC Tournament. Grundy had a 1-1 record in those two starts with a 4.22 ERA, striking out 14 in 10.2 innings. In his first start vs. MSU, Grundy worked 4.2 innings, allowing four hits and four runs, walking four and striking out five and MSU used a three-run fourth for a 4-3 win to clinch the series. In the SEC Tournament, Grundy tossed six strong innings, allowing only four hits and one run, walking two and striking out a then-career high nine. Evan Mitchell has made five weekend starts, tossing 19.2 innings, allowing only eight hits and 16 walks, striking out 23. On Saturday vs. MSU, Evan Mitchell worked four innings and allowed one hit and three runs – two earned – walking three and striking out four. In the regular-season finale in 2012, Evan Mitchell worked 2.2 innings in a start vs. UK, allowing three hits and two unearned runs, walking two and striking out four.
Littrell, a native of Louisville, Ky., has made five Sunday starts for UK, working 31.2 innings, allowing 32 hits and eight walks, striking out 31. A 6-foot-3, 190-pound southpaw, Littrell has made 37 appearances with 34 starts, posting an 18-8 record and a 4.21 ERA. He has tossed 199 innings, allowing 62 walks and striking out 169. In his last start, Littrell worked a career-long eight innings in a rubber-match win at Florida, allowing 10 singles and just one run, not issuing a walk and striking out seven. Littrell made a pair of starts vs. MSU last year, at Starkville and in the SEC Tourney. He worked 4.1 innings in the regular-season finale at MSU, allowing seven hits and seven runs – five earned – walking one and striking out six. In the SEC Tourney, Littrell tossed a quality start in a hard-luck, 2-1 loss, working six innings, allowing six hits and two runs, walking two and striking out six. Graveman has made five starts for MSU, tossing 26.2 innings, allowing 23 hits and 11 walks, striking out 20. Graveman is coming off a quality start in a win over LSU on Sunday, working six innings, allowing seven hits and one run, walking three and striking out four. Graveman started against UK in Starkville in 2012 going 3.2 innings, allowing five hits and two runs, striking out two. Graveman also started in 2012 in the SEC Tournament, allowing six hits and two runs in 2.1 innings, striking out one.
The Wildcats have been paced by an offense that has hit .297 with 152 runs scored in 20 games, belting 14 homers and stealing 31 bases. On the mound, UK has a 2.63 team ERA in 178 innings, walking 46 and striking out 149. Defensively, UK has a .974 fielding percentage, has turned 20 double plays and picked off six runners, allowing only five stolen bases in 11 attempts.
Individually, UK has been led by junior second baseman J.T. Riddle, who has hit .378 with five doubles, one triple, one homer and 16 RBI, owning an 8-2 walk-strikeout ratio and stealing four bases. Reed has hit .364 with three doubles, two triples, five homers and 26 RBI. Catcher Micheal Thomas has batted .341 with a double, homer and 13 RBI, stealing three bases. All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino has hit .305 with four doubles, four homers and 15 RBI, stealing 8-of-8 bases. Paul McConkey has added a .300 average with three doubles, one triple, one homer and 11 RBI, while Max Kuhn has batted .293 with six doubles, one triple, one homer and 16 RBI, swiping five bags. Shortstop Matt Reida has a .246 average with three doubles and 10 RBI, with outfielder Zac Zellers hitting .242 with a double, homer and nine RBI.
In the bullpen, junior Trevor Gott (2-0, 0.79 ERA) has appeared in 10 games in relief, with six saves in 11.1 innings, allowing seven this and three walks, striking out 13. Senior Walter Wijas (1-0, 0.87 ERA) has appeared in nine games, working 10.1 innings with nine strikeouts, with freshman righty Zach Strecker (1-0, 1.42 ERA) appearing in eight games. Freshmen lefties Ryne Combs (0-0, 1.42 ERA) and Dylan Dwyer (1-0, 0.00 ERA) have combined to appear in 12 games, with Combs making two midweek starts.
Mississippi State (20-4, 1-2 SEC) is coming off a series loss in the SEC opener to No. 3 LSU, as the Tigers traveled to Starkville and claimed the first two games of the series before the Bulldogs won the finale. In midweek action, MSU posted a win over Alcorn State, 7-6.
The Bulldogs has hit an SEC-leading .322 as a team in 2013, as the Bulldogs have played 23 of their first 24 games at Dudy Noble Field, claiming wins over Portland, Grambling State, Purdue, Samford, Rhode Island, St. Joe’s, Mississippi Valley State, Central Arkansas and Southern Miss. The Bulldogs had not lost a game before losing a three-game set vs. Central Arkansas in the final weekend before SEC play, then going 1-2 against the Tigers. MSU has belted 44 doubles and 11 homers, stealing 33 bases and fielding .971 as a team, turning 32 double plays and allowing 14 steals, with two pickoffs.
Individually, All-America shortstop Adam Frazier – a teammate with Cousino on the USA Collegiate National Team – has hit .415 with six doubles, four triples and 12 RBI, stealing six bases. Slugging outfielder Hunter Renfroe has a .408 average with seven doubles, two triples, six homers and 30 RBI, stealing six bases. Alex Detz has added a .394 average with six doubles and 19 RBI, leading the team with 21 walks. C.T. Bradford has returned from an injury plagued season in 2012 to hit .337 with three doubles, one homer and 12 RBI. Mitch Slauter and Wes Rea have each belted homers, with Brett Pirtle adding two bombs.
In the bullpen, closer Jonathan Holder (1-0, 3.65 ERA) has seven saves in 10 outings, tossing 12.1 innings with 22 strikeouts. Myles Gentry (2-0, 2.70 ERA) has appeared in a staff-high 13 games, with Chad Girodo (2-0, 0.79 ERA) pitching in 12 games in relief. Ben Bracewell (0-0, 0.00 ERA), Ross Mitchell (4-0, 1.25 ERA), Luis Pollorena (4-0, 3.32 ERA) and Preston Brown (0-0, 3.38 ERA) have each appeared in eight games.
UK trails the all-time series with Mississippi State, 55-31, including a 17-16 mark in games played in Lexington. UK last won a series vs. MSU in 2009 in Starkville, Miss., with its last home series win coming as a sweep during the 2006 SEC Championship season.
Last year, Mississippi State and Kentucky played a total of five games, with three games in Starkville to conclude the regular season and a pair of games in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. The Bulldogs swept UK to conclude the 2012 regular-season, with UK needing just one win to win the 2012 SEC Championship. UK and MSU then split the two meetings in the SEC Tournament, with MSU winning the semifinal to advance to the championship round. UK was led during the five games with MSU by Thomas McCarthy, who hit .540 (9-for-20). Riddle is UK’s returning leader against MSU, batting .333 with a homer and six RBI. Zellers hit .333, with Reed adding two RBI and a 3-for-10 outing against the Dogs.
In the series opener in 2012, MSU posted a 3-1 win behind ace Chris Stratton, who worked 6.1 innings with one run and eight strikeouts. The Dogs won the series in the second game, getting three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to win 4-3. In the finale, UK needed a win to claim the regular-season title, with the Bulldogs plating 11 runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, for an 11-3 win.