Nothing shows the toughness and talent of a young team like playing three experienced mid-majors at an MLB stadium in week three of the season. Kentucky is in Houston this weekend for the Shriners Classic at Minute Maid Park. The Cats will take on three 2017 NCAA Tournament teams in Houston, Sam Houston State, and Louisiana Lafayette this weekend. The three-game set has the feel of a regional with the amount of talent the Cats will play against in Houston.
Houston (Friday at 4:30 ET)
The Cats will play their highest-ranked opponent of the weekend on Friday afternoon when they take on the Houston Cougars. The #24 Cougs come in at 5-2 with five wins over 2017 NCAA Tournament teams. The strength for Houston comes from their pitching staff. Trey Cumbie and Aaron Fletcher lead a staff that has composed a 1.95 team ERA in their first seven games. Teams have struck out 82 times and are only hitting .192 against Houston in 2018. With numbers like those, it’s hard to believe that UH has lost this season. But their weakness early this year has been offensive production. As a team, the Cougars are hitting .233 with 36 runs scored. While their batting average is low, Houston does have 41 walks (compared to 56 hits) and a team OBP of .350, So, they are producing at just over five runs a game, but they are yet to face a pitcher like Sean Hjelle. The Cougs will struggle against Hjelle, but UK will also face a tough test in Cumbie. If UK can produce more than four runs on Friday, they should be able to knock off Houston.
Sam Houston State (Saturday at 1 ET)
Matt Deggs has taken the BearKats to national prominence over the last few seasons. The two-time defending champs of the Southland Conference advanced to their first Super Regional in 2017. SHSU returns 23 players from a team that won 44 games last season. The most notable returning players come on their pitching staff. Riley Gossett was named Preseason Pitcher of the Year and has started the season with a bang (1.08 ERA in two games). On Saturday, UK can expect to face either Seth Ballew (1.46 ERA in 12 innings) or Hayden Wesneski (3.68 ERA, 14 strikeouts). There aren’t many negatives in the 6-2 BearKats. Behind Hunter Hearn, their offense is slugging .477 in their first eight games. SHSU will be the only team UK will face this weekend that can match up against the Cats’ offense. The BearKats will present the biggest challenge to UK this weekend on both offense and pitching.
Louisiana Lafayette (Sunday at noon ET)
The Rajun Cajuns have been a championship contender for the large part of the last decade, but 2018 has been rough on ULL early. Lafayette is at the bottom of the Sun Belt in batting average and runs after games against Texas, SE Lousiana, Wright State, and Nicholls. The Cajuns were not expected to have the same level of success they have had in past years, but the first two weeks of the season have been a disappointment. ULL will struggle to get a hit against Justin Lewis on Sunday afternoon.
All three games will be broadcast on Astros.com. If you can’t watch, make sure to listen to Dick Gabriel on 98.5 or follow @TreyHuntsmanKSR for live updates.