LEXINGTON, Ky. -- In a matchup of the hottest teams in college baseball, the two clubs tied atop the Southeastern Conference standings will face off in the nation’s premier weekend series, with No. 2 Kentucky hosting No. 1 LSU, starting Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The series will resume on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET and conclude on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (33-5, 11-4 SEC) enters the series winners of its first five-consecutive conference weekends, owning the best start to a season overall and in league play in school history. The Wildcats have secured series wins at Tennessee, No 18 Georgia and No. 9 Arkansas, sweeping No. 2 South Carolina and winning a three-game set vs. No. 10 Ole Miss at home.
The Wildcats lead the NCAA in wins, owning a consensus top-three national ranking and sporting a No. 5 NCAA RPI at the midway point of the season. The Wildcats have been powered by the nation’s best offensive attack and a dominating bullpen, claiming 11 wins in 12 one-run contests and owning a 9-4 record against top-25 opponents.
The Friday and Saturday games will be televised live on the UK IMG Network, with Dick Gabriel, Doug Flynn and Ryan Lemond calling the action. The games will be available live on C-WKYT in Central Kentucky, with the Friday game delayed on Fox Sports South due to the Nashville Predators, a professional hockey team, playing a playoff hockey game. The Saturday game will be live on C-WKYT in Central Kentucky and on Fox Sports South. All three games will be on the UK IMG Radio Network, with 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 its regular weekend rotation to the mound for the 10th-consecutive week to open the year, with junior southpaw Taylor Rogers (4-1, 5.07 ERA) facing off the All-America LSU sophomore flame-throwing right-hander Kevin Gausman (6-1, 2.76 ERA). On Saturday, UK junior lefty Jerad Grundy (3-1, 4.60 ERA) will face LSU sophomore righty Ryan Eades (5-1, 2.51 ERA). On Sunday, sophomore UK southpaw Corey Littrell (6-0, 1.95 ERA) will face one of the top freshmen pitchers in college baseball, right-hander Aaron Nola (5-1, 3.15 ERA).
A native of Littleton, Colo., Rogers has made nine Friday-night starts for the Wildcats in 2012, tossing 49.2 innings, allowing 59 hits and 11 walks, striking out 54. In his last start at No. 9 Arkansas, Rogers allowed seven hits and five runs, walking three and striking out two in four innings. Rogers has made two career starts vs. LSU, tossing seven innings, allowing 14 hits and 14 runs, walking four and striking out five, allowing four homers. Gausman has made nine Friday-night starts for LSU in 2012, tossing 62 innings, walking 19 and striking out 77. In his last start, Gausman tossed eight innings in a 10-2 win over Alabama, allowing six hits and two runs, walking two and striking out seven. In his start vs. UK last year, Gausman worked seven innings in a 12-4 LSU win, allowing only two hits and one run, walking three and striking out eight.
Grundy, a transfer from Heartland CC and Miami (Fla.) has started nine Saturday games for UK, tossing 45 innings with 41 hits and 20 walks allowed, striking out 36, with opponents batting at a .241 clip. In his last start, Grundy tossed 3.1 innings, allowing two hits and four runs – three earned – walking five and striking out four. Eades has started nine games this year, with 57.1 innings pitched, allowing 49 hits and 13 walks, striking out 45. In his last start, Eades tossed 7.1 strong innings in a win over Alabama, allowing only two hits and one run, walking four and striking out five.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Littrell has been a workhorse for the Wildcats in the Sunday role, winning his fourth consecutive rubber match on Saturday at No. 9 Arkansas last weekend. Littrell has hurled a staff-high 55.1 innings, allowing 55 hits and 14 walks, striking out 48. In his last start, Littrell worked 6.1 innings in the rubber match at Arkansas, allowing eight hits and one run, walking one and striking out three. In his start at LSU last year, Littrell worked 1.2 innings, allowing four hits and five runs – two earned – walking three and striking out one. Aaron Nola has appeared in 11 games with eight starts, tossing 45.2 innings, allowing only 35 hits and four walks, striking out 46. In his last start, Aaron Nola worked five innings in a win over LSU, allowing only three hits and one run, striking out five.
UK’s dynamic offensive attack leads the SEC in nearly every category, including average (.316), slugging (.487), on-base percentage (.405), runs (282), hits (411), RBI (258), doubles (82) and total bases (633), ranking second in homers (44). On the mound, UK ranks seventh in ERA (3.53) and fourth in strikeouts (320), turning the third-most double plays in the league (32) and fielding sixth-best (.974).
Individually, Cousino ranks seventh in average (.353), eighth in slugging (.577), first in runs (41), fourth in hits (55), 12th in RBI (30), first in doubles (15), 10th in homers (six) and second in total bases (90). Maile ranks fourth in slugging (.603), fourth in runs (35), sixth in RBI (37), first in homers (10), fifth in total bases (85) and sixth in steals (eight). Flynn ranks fifth in slugging percentage (.602), fourth in homers (nine) and second in sacrifice flies (five). Reed ranks sixth in RBI (37), while McCarthy ranks fifth in doubles (13) and ninth in total bases (75). Riddle checks in fourth in runs scored (35), with Zac Zellers ranking first in hit by pitches (16). Littrell ranks fourth in ERA (1.95), seventh in innings pitched (55.1), 11th in strikeouts (48), second in wins (six) and first in runners picked off (five). Rogers checks in eighth in strikeouts (54), second in strikeouts looking (25), while Gott ranks third in saves (eight) and third in games finished (15).
LSU (31-7, 11-4 SEC) enters the series winners of seven-consecutive games as the hottest team in the nation, including three consecutive dominating series wins, including a sweep of No. 3 Arkansas and Alabama at Alex Box Stadium and a series win at No. 1 Florida two weeks ago. The Tigers own a .303 team batting average with 19 homers in 38 games, stealing 32 bases. On the mound, LSU is paced by a 2.96 ERA, the second-best team ERA in the SEC, behind only UK’s foe last weekend, Arkansas (2.71 ERA).
The Tigers have been led offensively by the dynamic batting of outfielder Raph Rhymes, who leads the league with a .484 average, totaling eight doubles, one homer and 40 RBI. First baseman Mason Katz has hit .348 with 11 doubles, seven homers and 31 RBI, stealing eight bases. Catcher Ty Ross has hit .322 with five doubles, one homer and 29 RBI, while senior shortstop Austin Nola owns a .301 average with 10 doubles, one homer and 22 RBI. Senior third baseman Tyler Hanover has hit .292 with eight doubles, one homer and 21 RBI, while Grant Dozar has a .276 average with two homers and 14 RBI. Star second baseman/centerfielder JaCoby Jones owns a .259 average with 10 doubles, one homer, 18 RBI and eight steals.
In the bullpen for LSU, Nick Goody (1-0, 0.95 ERA) has emerged as the closer, with five saves in a team-high 20 relief outings, striking out 27 and walking only two in 19 innings. Lefty Chris Cotton (4-0, 1.77 ERA) has also appeared in 20 games, with 20.1 innings and 19 strikeouts. Nick Rumbelow (0-0, 4.41 ERA) has appeared in 19 games, while Kurt McCune (2-3, 4.11 ERA) has tossed 14 games with five starts.
LSU leads the all-time series between the two teams, 42-23-1, including a 16-13 mark in games played in Lexington. UK has won two of the last three series meetings in Lexington and has won three of the last six series meetings.
In the series last year, LSU swept the three games, including a dramatic 9-5 comeback win in the series opener, UK’s first appearance on the SEC Thursday Night ESPN Game of the Week. UK owned a 5-1 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning in Baton Rouge, before LSU erupted for eight runs in the bottom of the inning to post the win. UK reliever Braden Kapteyn allowed the three decisive runs in the eighth inning, getting one out. Alex Meyer left the game in the eighth after striking out 10 in seven innings, including three strikeouts of All-America centerfielder Mikie Mahtook. In the second game of the series, LSU posted a 12-4 win, jumping out to a five-run lead in the second inning, chasing Littrell from the game. In the series finale, LSU got a three-run first inning for an early lead, posting a 8-4 win to clinch the sweep, as Rogers suffered his sixth loss of 2011. In the series in 2010, UK swept the Tigers in a must-win situation as UK clung to its postseason life in the home finale weekend. UK’s dramatic sweep started with two three-run homers from Lance Ray in the opener, including a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in the 11-9 win. In the second game of the 2010 series in Lexington, Jordan Cooper worked into the eighth inning on the mound and UK belted three homers, including one from Maile. In the finale, UK entered the bottom of the eighth inning trailing 4-2, before senior Marcus Nidiffer – in his final home at bat – launched a game-winning grand slam off LSU closer Matty Ott to clinch the series sweep.