LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky will open up its 2014 season with the Hughes Brothers Baseball Challenge, hosted by UNC Wilmington in Wilmington, N.C., on Friday against No. 1 Virginia, with first pitch at Brooks Field set for 12 p.m. ET.
UK will then face UNC Wilmington on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, before concluding the weekend vs. VMI at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday. UK will then travel to play USC Upstate at 1 p.m. ET on Monday in Spartanburg, S.C.
All four games will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with Dick Gabriel voicing the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the games live on WWTF 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky has set its weekend rotation of junior left-hander A.J. Reed (2-8, 4.04 ERA in 2013) on Friday, junior right-hander Chandler Shepherd (5-0, 2.77 ERA in 2013) on Saturday and sophomore righty Kyle Cody (3-3, 4.84 ERA in 2013) on Sunday, with Monday’s starter to be determined. Virginia is countering with sophomore southpaw Brandon Waddell (6-3, 3.96 ERA in 2013) on Friday, with UNC Wilmington starting junior righty Jordan Ramsey (6-6, 2.34 ERA in 2013) on Saturday and VMI using junior right-hander Andrew Woods (2-1, 4.58 ERA in 2013).
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed enters 2014 as a first-team preseason All-America selection by Baseball America. A 6-foot-4, 240-pounder, Reed became the first player in program to serve as UK’s Friday night starter in 2013 and No. 3 or No. 4 hitter. On the mound, Reed made 14 weekend opening starts in 2013, working 82.1 innings, allowing 100 hits and 15 walks, striking out 52. Waddell, A 6-foot-3, 180-pound lefty made 16 starts for UVA in 2013, tossing 88.2 innings, allowing 100 hits and 23 walks, striking out 84.
Shepherd, a native of Louisa, Ky., is moving into the weekend rotation for the first time in his career after serving as UK’s go-to-reliever in 2013. Shepherd led UK with a 2.77 ERA as a sophomore, with a 5-0 record in 26 games and one midweek start. Rated as the 70th-best prospect available in college for the 2014 MLB Draft, Shepherd worked 55.1 innings in 2013, with 17 walks and 39 strikeouts. UNCW will turn to its ace, Ramsey for the start against UK, with the 6-foot-4 junior owning a 6-6 record and a 2.34 ERA last season. Ramsey appeared in 17 games with 16 starts, tossing two complete games and working 104 innings, walking 30 and striking out 83.
A native of Chippewa Falls, Wis., Cody enters 2014 as the seventh-best sophomore in college baseball according to Baseball America, ranking as the top sophomore pitcher in the Southeastern Conference. As a freshman, Cody served as a midweek starter before earning the weekend starting role for the final three weeks. A 6-foot-7, 245-pounder, Cody went 3-3 with a 4.86 ERA in 2013, making 15 appearances with 10 starts. Cody worked 57.2 innings, allowing 57 hits and walking 20, striking out 47. VMI will turn to Woods for the start, a year after Woods appeared in 21 games in relief. Woods finished with a 2-1 record and a 4.58 ERA in 2013, tossing 35.1 innings, walking 11 and striking out 22.
Kentucky will be meeting Virginia for the first time since 1906, a 7-2 win for the Hoos in Charlottesville. UK will be facing UNC Wilmington for the first time since a season-opening trip to Wilmington in 1996, a 6-3 UK win. The Wildcats have never faced VMI in program history. UK will be facing USC Upstate for the third consecutive seasons in Spartanburg, posting a 6-0 win in 2012 and an 11-10 comeback win in 2013. In the 2013 win, UK got a pinch-hit RBI single as the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning to lift UK to the win.
Kentucky owns a 59-41-3 all-time record in season openers. The Wildcats has their school-record streak of winning seven consecutive season openers snapped in 2011 loss at No. 20 College of Charleston. That streak bested the previous record of five consecutive seasons-opening wins. UK has won two consecutive season opener, besting Wofford in 2012 and UNC Asheville in 2013.
The Wildcats have played nine total games against No. 1 ranked teams in the six-year era with head coach Gary Henderson at the helm. UK last topped a No. 1 ranked foe by claiming a series over No. 1 LSU, when UK was ranked No. 2, in 2012 in Lexington. UK has never faced a non-conference opponent that entered the game ranked No. 1.
Kentucky has had a bevy of honors in the preseason, including Reed earning first-team preseason All-America honors by Baseball America. Reed was also named preseason All-America by NCBWA and Louisville Slugger, with centerfielder Austin Cousino earning third-team All-America honors from Baseball America. Shepherd enters the year ranked as the No. 70 prospect available in the 2014 MLB Draft by Baseball America, with Reed ranking No. 85 and Cousino ranking No. 97. Cody was ranked by Baseball America as the seventh-best sophomore in college baseball, with infielder Connor Heady ranked No. 38 among NCAA freshmen.
Virginia (50-12, 22-8 SEC in 2013) enters the season as the No. 1 team in the Baseball America preseason top 25. The Hoos are coming off a season where they hit .312 as a team, with 43 homers in 62 games, with a .463 slugging and a .408 on-base percentage. On the mound, UVA had a 3.12 team ERA in 556.2 innings, walking 146 and striking out 493. UVA returns its top five hitters from 2013 and eight of its top 10 hitters, including leading slugger Mike Papi. Papi finished 2013 with a .381 average with 15 doubles, three triples and seven homers, driving in 57 RBI. Branden Cogswell hit .346 in 2013 with 22 RBI, with Joe McCarthy batting .336 with four homers and 51 RBI in 2013. Nick Howard returns after hitting .323 with three homers and 38 RBI, while top power threat Brandon Downes hit .316 with 10 homers and 59 RBI in 2013.
UNC Wilmington (38-23, 18-8 Colonial) hit .292 as a team in 2013, belting 46 homers and stealing 52 bases in 61 games. The Seahawks owned a 3.95 ERA in 2013, with 12 saves and 542.2 innings, walking 217 and striking out 447.
VMI (20-35, 6-18 Big South in 2013) is coming off a 2013 that saw the Keydets hit .279 as a team, with a .385 slugging and a .367 on-base percentage, belting 19 homers and stealing 84 bases in 55 games. On the mound in 2013, VMI owned a 4.51 ERA in 487.1 innings, walking 182 and striking out 337.
USC Upstate (28-30, 9-8 A-Sun) is coming off a season with a .299 team average, belting 19 homers, stealing 34 bases and owning a 205:312 walk-strikeout ratio. Upstate posted a 4.34 ERA on the mound as a team in 510.2 innings, walking 190 and striking out 381.