Bat Cats Face Hot Team To Start Regional

Reported by: Dan Rieffer
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Updated: 5/31/2012 7:29 pm
Kentucky plays Kent State, which is riding a 17-game win streak, to open NCAA regional play Friday in Gary, Indiana.

From UK Athletics
GARY, Ind. -- The No. 11 Kentucky baseball team will open its seventh all-time NCAA Tournament by traveling to the NCAA Gary, Ind., Regional, opening up with No. 25 Kent State on Friday at 4 p.m. ET at the independent league US Steel Yard.

The Big Ten Network will provide a live telecast of all the games involving B1G Champion Purdue.

Kentucky (43-16) has had the best season in the history of the program, winning the second-most games in school annals and finishing third overall in the Southeastern Conference. UK led the SEC eight of 10 weeks and was just one win shy of winning the second league regular season title in UK history. UK is just one win shy of equaling the school record for wins, owning a 13-9 record against top-25 teams, a 10-5 mark against top-10 foes and setting a school record by winning seven of its 10 SEC weekends. Last week, UK advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, the highest UK finish in the modern-era history of the league tournament (1998-present).            

Also in the bracket is No. 1 seed Purdue – hosting the regional 100 miles from its campus – No. 2 seeded UK, No. 3 seeded Kent State and No. 4 seed Valparaiso, which is just 25 miles away from the host site. UK owns a 5-0 all-time record against Kent State, a 5-1 all-time mark against Purdue and has never played Valpo in school history. Overall against the field, UK owns a 14-13 mark against teams in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Led by the SEC Coach of the Year Gary Henderson and SEC Freshman of the Year Austin Cousino, Kentucky will be making its seventh all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament, owning a 10-12 overall record. UK’s last appearance in the NCAA Tournament came in 2008, when the Wildcats tied the best finish in school history with a regional runner-up finish. UK also finished as the regional runner up in 1988 and 2006. UK has made the NCAA Tournament in 1949, 1950, 1988, 1993, 2006, 2008 and 2012.

Kentucky will send junior southpaw Taylor Rogers (6-4, 4.31 ERA) to the mound on Friday to face off with Kent State ace senior lefty David Starn (10-3, 1.77 ERA), the winningest pitcher in school history. A native of Littleton, Colo., Rogers will be making his 17th appearance and his 15th start of the year vs. Kent State, owning one save in 85.2 innings. Rogers has struck out 78 and walked 19 in his starts. During the SEC Tournament and because of his ability to dominate in the spacious Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., Rogers was used in relief for the first time in 2012, hurling 6.1 shutout innings in two of UK’s three games. A folk-hero in Kent State baseball circles, Starn will be making the start against UK. A Hudson, Ohio, native, Starn has used several pitches to dominate the Mid-American Conference for another season, winning MAC Pitcher of the Year honors. Starn has appeared in 16 games with 15 starts, tossing 101.2 innings, allowing 76 hits and walking 37, with 112 strikeouts and a .205 opponent average.

The Wildcats rank throughout the four polls, checking in as high as No. 11 in the Baseball America poll for the second consecutive week. UK also ranks No. 12 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll and No. 12 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top-30. UK checks in No. 13 in the Collegiate Baseball poll, with its first round NCAA opponent, Kent State ranking No. 25. Purdue is ranked as high as No. 14 in the NCBWA and USA Today polls. 

Purdue (44-12) will be playing in its second NCAA Tournament in school history, after winning the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships. The Boilermakers have enjoyed their best season in school history, batting .318 as a team, slugging 34 homers and stealing 62 bases. On the mound, Purdue had a 3.10 ERA with 13 saves, striking 346 and walking 122.

Purdue has been one of the best stories in college baseball throughout the year, owning a balanced club that has been projected to be a regional host since early in the year. Purdue has been led offensively by Kevin Plawecki, who has 20 doubles, a .365 average, seven homers and 45 RBI. Eric Charles has hit .364 with 13 doubles, 33 RBI and 16 steals, while Cameron Perkins has hit .358 with nine homers and a team-high 58 RBI. Stephen Talbott has a .347 average with four doubles, one homer and 18 RBI, stealing 15 bags. Barrett Serrato has batted .327 with 10 doubles, six homers and 45 RBI.

In the bullpen, the Boilers have been led by Nick Wittgren (3-0, 1.89 ERA) who has 10 saves and 37 strikeouts in 38 innings. Blake Mascarello (8-1, 1.72 ERA) has appeared in a team-best 27 games with three saves, striking out 47 in 68 innings. Joe Haase (10-1, 3.41 ERA) leads the club in wins, while Lance Breedlove (8-5, 2.82 ERA) paces the starters in ERA.

Kent State (41-17) will be playing in its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament after breezing through the Mid-American Conference and running its winning streak to a NCAA-leading 17 consecutive games. Ranked No. 25 by Collegiate Baseball, Kent State owns a .309 average with 31 homers and 52 steals. On the mound, Kent State has posted a 3.61 team ERA, striking out 464 in 501 innings, walking 198. Kent State is coached by the highly respected Scott Stricklin and has been led throughout the year by its school-record holder for career wins and strikeouts, lefty David Starn (9-3, 1.82 ERA).

The Flashes have been paced individually by Nick Hamilton, who owns a .377 average with 12 doubles, one homer and 35 RBI. George Roberts has hit .368 with 18 doubles, seven homers and a team-high 57 RBI, while Jimmy Rider has a .361 mark with 26 doubles, five homers and 39 RBI. Evan Campbell has added a .346 average with 19 doubles, three homers and 28 RBI, while David Lyon has a team-high 10 homers, adding a .288 average with 16 doubles and 40 RBI.

On the mound, Kent State has been paced by David Starn (10-3, 1.77 ERA), the winningest pitcher in school history. Ryan Bores (8-2, 3.32 ERA) and Tyler Skulina (10-2, 3.94 ERA) have helped anchor a strong starting rotation. In the bullpen, Casey Wilson (1-0, 4.28 ERA) has a team-high six saves, with 25 strikeouts in 27.1 innings. Brian Clark (4-0, 0.44 ERA) has four saves and 18 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, while Ryan Mace (2-3, 3.40 ERA) has four saves and 43 strikeouts in 53.0 innings. Eric Dorsch (1-1, 3.15 ERA) has appeared in 21 games with two saves.

Valparaiso (35-23) won the Horizon League Tournament and the regular season to clinch a berth in the NCAA 64-team field. Valpo has tied a school record for wins in a season and will be making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1968. Valpo has hit .292 as a team with 14 homers and 46 steals, fielding .968. On the mound, Valparaiso has a 3.41 ERA in 533.2 innings, walking 137 and striking out 319.

Valpo has been led individually by Tanner Vavra’s .333 average, with eight doubles, 19 RBI and 15 steals. Elliott Martin has hit .310 with six doubles, two homers and 50 RBI, while Andrew Bain has a .310 average with 19 RBI. Will Hagel has hit .300 with 42 RBI, while Chris Manning has batted .292 with two homers, 35 RBI and 11 steals.

In the bullpen, Valparaiso has been paced by Jarad Miller (5-2, 2.06 ERA) who has eight saves, striking out 34 in 43.2 innings. Sean Kennedy (2-0, 3.63 ERA) has appeared in 17 games with 21 strikeouts in 22.1 innings, while Ryan Kennedy (2-0, 0.60 ERA) has allowed only one earned run in 15 innings and 10 relief outings.

Kentucky hosted Purdue in a three-game series from March 9-11, 2008 in Lexington, during some chilly weather. In the opener, UK got a walk-off RBI in the bottom of the ninth to break a 2-2 game, coming off current LA Dodgers reliever Josh Lindblom, with UK beating then ace Matt Bischoff. UK starter Scott Green struck out nine in six shutout innings and Andrew Albers picked up the win in relief. In the second game, UK posted a 6-1 win, despite being outhit 11-8. Greg Dombrowski worked six innings and allowed one run with seven strikeouts, as UK got a grand slam from Chris Wade in the bottom of the sixth inning to inflate a 2-1 game. In the series finale in 2008, UK used a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning from Marcus Nidiffer off Lindblom – the Tennessee transfer – erasing a 3-3 game and giving UK a 13-0 start to 2008 and the series sweep.

The Wildcats have been paced by a .297 team offensive batting average, with 56 homers and 45 steals in 59 games. On the mound, UK boasts a 3.48 team ERA with 20 saves, 455 strikeouts and 150 walks in 522 innings, with the UK defense fielding .974.

Individually, Cousino has led UK in hitting with a .318 average, 56 runs, 76 hits, 19 doubles and 13 steals, adding nine homers and 38 RBI, throwing out an SEC-leading eight runners from centerfield. All-SEC freshman team member A.J. Reed is batting .314 with nine doubles, four homers and 42 RBI, while catcher Luke Maile, a second-team All-SEC catcher, has hit .313 with 13 doubles, 12 homers and 49 RBI. Third baseman Thomas McCarthy owns a .309 mark with 19 doubles, five homers and 30 RBI, while senior catcher Michael Williams has hit .294 with eight doubles, three homers and 33 RBI. Outfielder Zac Zellers has hit .290 with nine doubles, five homers, 18 RBI and a team-high .438 on-base percentage. Second baseman J.T. Riddle has hit .285 with 11 doubles, five homers and 37 RBI, while shortstop Matt Reida owns a .234 mark with eight doubles, two homers and 19 RBI.  Outfielder Cameron Flynn has batted .282 with nine doubles, nine homers and 34 RBI, while top reserves – right-handed hitting outfielders Lucas Witt and Brian Adams have batted .349 and .250 respectively, with Adams launching a homer with seven RBI and Witt adding nine RBI.

In the bullpen, UK has been paced by its closer, sophomore righty Trevor Gott (5-2, 2.62 ERA), who has nine saves in 10 chances to set a new UK single-season record. Tim Peterson (3-0, 2.49 ERA) has a team-high 27 relief outings and one save, four walks and 28 strikeouts in 25.1 innings. Senior lefty Alex Phillips (5-2, 3.08 ERA) has seven saves and 27 relief outings, tossing 52.2 innings with 37 hits and 42 strikeouts. Freshman southpaw Sam Mahar (3-3, 2.79 ERA) has appeared in 22 games with two saves, tossing 38.2 innings, walking 11 and striking out 33. Reed (5-2, 2.62 ERA) has appeared in 15 games with five starts, striking out 43 and walking seven in 44.2 innings. Walter Wijas (2-0, 5.57 ERA) has excelled as a matchup reliever and Chandler Shepherd (3-0, 4.34 ERA) has had moments of dominance during his freshman season, both as a starter and extended reliever. UK can also use Jeff Boehm (0-0, 4.91 ERA) as a lefty reliever and righty Taylor Martin (0-0, 2.25 ERA) in extended innings if needed.

UK ranks throughout the SEC leaders in nearly every offensive category, ranking third in average (.297), second in slugging (.442), second in on-base percentage (.383), second in runs scored (361), third in hits (594), second in RBI (331), first in doubles (114), second in homers (56), second in total bases (884) and third in hit by pitches (83). On the mound, UK ranks sixth in ERA (3.48), sixth in strikeouts (455), first in wins (43) and first in pickoffs (19). Defensively, UK ranks sixth in fielding percentage (.974), allowing the fewest steals (27) turning the seventh-most double plays (44).

Individually, Maile ranks seventh in slugging (.539), eighth in runs (46), sixth in RBI (49), fourth in homers (12), eighth in total bases (117) and 11th in walks (34). Cousino ranks ninth in slugging (.519), second in runs (56), seventh in hits (76), second in doubles (19), eighth in homers (nine), fourth in total bases (124) and seventh in steals (13). Zellers ranks 10th in on-base percentage (.438) and first in hit by pitches (20), while Flynn ranks eighth in homers (nine) and McCarthy ranks second in doubles (19). Corey Littrell checks in sixth in ERA (2.66), fifth in innings (91.1), sixth in strikeouts (80), fourth in wins (eight) and first in runners picked off (seven). Rogers ranks 10th in innings pitched (85.2) and ninth in strikeouts (78), while Gott ranks sixth in saves (nine) and third in games finished (21). Reida ranks second in the SEC in defensive assists (182), turning the seventh-most double plays (35). 
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