Kentucky baseball stars Austin Cousino, Paul McConkey and Chandler Shepherd have each been awarded for their summer league performances. Cousino was named the 12th-best MLB prospect on the USA Collegiate National Team, McConkey was named a top New England Collegiate Baseball League performer and Shepherd was named the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League Pitcher of the Year.
— Austin Cousino helped the USA Collegiate National Team earn a bronze medal in the Netherlands during their 16-game slate. He paced the squad with a .351 batting average from the leadoff spot, owning a .479 on-base percentage and crossing the plate ten times. Cousino was one of only seven freshmen on the 23-man roster, a team which is supposedly assembled from the best 23 players in the country. Cousino’s recognition as a top-12 player on the team, in essence says he would be drafted in that spot if he were eligible. For Kentucky, Cousino had one of the best freshman seasons of anyone in the nation, leading the team in nearly every offensive category while being named SEC Freshman of the Year along with a host of other awards. He’ll be back in Blue for the next two seasons to improve his already sky-high draft stock.
— After raking the NECBL this summer, Paul McConkey was acknowledged as a top performer in the league by Perfect Game USA. He hit .358 with 11 doubles and 22 RBI while playing for the Holyoke Blue Sox out of Massachusetts. His team only mustered 17 wins in the 41-game season, but McConkey’s average ranked sixth-best in the league and earned him a designated hitter spot on the NECBL First Team for 2012. Leading the pack in New England was Rutgers University standout Jeff Melillo who won the batting title with a .404 average this summer and was a Johnny Bench Award finalist for Rutgers. McConkey will return to Kentucky as a decorated junior with left-handed power at the plate. He has the ability to play anywhere in the infield, but will likely see his time at third base with the departure of senior Thomas McCarthy.
— Chandler Shepherd absolutely torched batters in the PGCBL this summer, posting a perfect 7-0 record in eight starts with a stellar 1.31 ERA during his 55 regular season innings. His dominate .154 opponents’ batting average ranks atop the league, and his nine total runs allowed tie him for the best. His 50 strikeouts to 55 innings pitched is a solid ratio to boot. Shepherd was the ace of the Amsterdam Mohawks out of New York, which he helped lead to a PGCBL championship and a No. 2 ranking out of all summer league baseball teams. The Kentucky sophomore was practically untouchable in his final two starts in the summer league. He tossed a one-hit shutout for eight innings in mid-July when he carried a no-hitter into the 6th before it was broken up by a bunt single. The following game he took another no-hitter into the 5th before giving up a single in a complete game victory. Postseason included, Shepherd pitched to a 9-0 record in 67.2 innings, a 1.73 ERA and 64 strikeouts.
When the baseball Cats return to action in early 2013, expectations will be through the roof. Head coach Gary Henderson has another talented class of incoming freshmen and plenty of experience returning. Not many fans expected the magical run we witnessed this past season, so the pressure is on to deliver another run through the SEC and make a push for Omaha. Austin Cousino, Paul McConkey and Chandler Shepherd will be vital to achieving success, and all indications are they’re ready for the challenge.