The BatCats are in the cellar of the SEC East for the first time under Nick Mingione. Kentucky (10-9, 3-6) was upset last weekend at Alabama after taking two of three against Auburn two weeks ago. South Carolina comes to Lexington this weekend led by junior pitcher Adam Hill. The Gamecocks have had their own struggles as of late. Much like UK, South Carolina has been bitten by the injury bug in 2018. USC will be without two of their best hitters this weekend, but it will still be a tough series for the Cats at home. Here is everything you need to know for the series.
Facts To Know
Record: 17-12 (4-5)
Coach: Mark Kingston (First Year)
Top Prospect: Adam Hill
Famous Alumni: Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Wilson, Sam Dyson
Last Season: Kentucky took two of three in the season series before the teams split two games in the SEC Tournament.
Another SEC Friday night, another ace on the mound. The Gamecocks will throw Adam Hill (3-2, 3.58) to start the series tonight. Hill has been in the weekend rotation for three years at USC. The junior has started three games against UK, going 16 combined innings, allowing four earned runs, six hits, nine walks, and striking out 17. Shoulder tendinitis forced Hill to miss some time in March but will be ready to go on Friday. The lone issue for Hill has been free passes. Hill has held opponents to an average of .110 at the plate (lowest in the SEC), but he has walked 16 in 32.2 innings.
Hill is the last member of a dominant USC pitching staff that consisted of Hill, Wil Crowe, and Clarke Schmidt. Cody Morris and Ridge Chapman have replaced the two members of last year’s staff that have since been drafted in the MLB. Morris is a hard-throwing righty that will most likely hear his name called in this year’s draft. The Gamecock rotation is not as strong as in year’s past, but they do have talent with Hill and Morris taking the mound.
This South Carolina lineup has forced many college baseball pundits to scratch their heads this season. I expected Carlos Cortes to have a breakout season, but he has struggled to find consistency at the plate (,228, six home runs). Cortes is not the only Gamecock to have issues at the plate in 2018. As a team, USC is hitting .270, which is 11th in the SEC.
The USC offense will be without Madison Stokes (.383, five home runs, 18 RBIs) and Justin Row (.320, three, home runs, nine RBIs) this weekend, so the task will be even tougher at the plate. Jonah Bride and L.T Tolbert have been two of the guys that have stepped up for players that are injured or struggling. Bride and Tolbert lead the Gamecocks in batting average and on-base percentage.
How can Kentucky win this series?
Winning in the SEC is never easy, but there are a few ways UK could take this series. First of all, they need to give Sean Hjelle some run support on Friday night. The Cats have averaged less than four runs on Friday nights the last three weeks. Hjelle is a fantastic pitcher and can shut down any offense, but pitching with some insurance would be nice, especially against Adam Hill. As for beating Hill, if they Cats work four or more walks against him, I think they could get him out before the sixth inning and possibly hang some runs on him. The coaching staff at USC won’t let Hill go too deep after coming back from injury, so they will need their bullpen to step up. If the Cats can burn USC’s best bullpen arms on Friday, that would help them for the remainder of the series.
As for UK’s pitching staff, a big start from Zach Haake would go a long way on Saturday. The junior went 7.2 innings last Saturday but struggled with his control and walked nine batters. I think we will see a different Zach Haake this weekend.
Friday: 6:30 Et SECN+
Saturday: 6 ET SEC Network
Sunday: 2 ET ESPNU