It’s officially time for postseason baseball.
Kentucky wrapped up their regular season this past weekend with a trip to Nashville and were dealt another losing weekend. The Vanderbilt Commodores took the series winning two out of three but the Wildcats played spoiler on Saturday by recording a win that costed the ‘Dores a division title.
With a 29-22 overall record, Kentucky enters the week very much on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. The Bat ‘Cats must make a run this weekend down in Hoover, Ala., in the SEC Tournament. This is a very big moment for Kentucky baseball.
Coltyn Kessler’s rise
In 2019, Kessler started 47 games for Kentucky and had a very strong season. The sophomore batted .297 in 165 at-bats with 12 doubles, five home runs, and an OPS of .857. The Bat ‘Cats appeared to have found a solid middle of the lineup hitter to build around. However, Kessler struggled in the COVID-19 shortened 202o season.
The senior from Missouri has found his groove this season.
Kessler leads the team in batting average (.347) and on-base percentage (.440). The veteran ranks second on the squad in OPS (1.oo5) and slugging percentage (.613). In SEC play, Kessler is slashing .339/.438/.569. The catcher has consistently been a force at the plate and his three-run clutch home run on Saturday allowed the Bat ‘Cats to record a stunning victory over Vanderbilt.
Here’s how it looked at Hawkins Field and how it sounded on the @UKSportsNetwork! @UKBaseball scores 5 in the 9th to stun Vanderbilt 7-5!! @coltyn_kessler with the HUGE 3-run blast! pic.twitter.com/z8XbrxQK1N
— Darren Headrick (@Darren_Headrick) May 23, 2021
Kessler has been excellent all season and should compete for All-SEC honors.
Cole Stupp is the future
The Kentucky pitching staff has had its fair share of struggles in SEC play. The team lost starter Mason Hazelwood early in the season and has had to patch things together for most of the year. Despite all of that, sophomore Cole Stupp has consistently been an innings eater for the staff.
In SEC play, the 6-foot-4 right-hander has gone at least seven innings in half of his 10 starts. Before this past weekend, the highlight was an eight-inning performance on the road against Georgia giving up just one run despite allowing 10 hits. However, Thursday was his best moment of the season.
Going up against future top-five pick Kumar Rocker, Stupp battled for the Wildcats and kept the team in the game. The second-year player went seven innings against a very good Vanderbilt lineup allowing just two runs with five strikeouts. The young pitcher has proven to be a workhorse.
Some of the numbers aren’t great for Stupp with a 4-5 record on the season with a 4.76 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. However, no one else on the team is close to his 75.2 innings logged and he’s consistently delivered against some of the best lineups in college baseball.
The Milton (Ga.) High product will be a cornerstone of the team in 2022.
NCAA tournament hopes seem dashed
Entering last weekend, Baseball America did not have Kentucky among their first eight out of the NCAA Tournament. Winning just one game against Vanderbilt helped, but it did not likely move the needle all that much. The Wildcats currently sit at No. 59 overall in RPI with an 8-19 record in Quadrant 1 games. There are just not enough quality wins on the resume.
However, there is always this weekend’s conference tournament. Kentucky earned the No. 11 seed for this event at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex. The Wildcats will most likely need to win 2-3 games to have a realistic shot at earning an at-large bid. Or, you know, they could just win the whole thing to clinch the automatic bid.
This week in Kentucky baseball
Who doesn’t like baseball with breakfast? On Tuesday morning, Kentucky and Florida will square off to get the tournament started at 10:30 a.m. EST. Of course, the Gators took the season series in Lexington thanks to a ninth-inning comeback in game two at Kentucky Proud Park.
Tuesday’s action will be a play-in game for all eight teams seeded 5-12. Win and you’ll enter the double-elimination part of the tournament. Lose and you will go home early. The Wildcats have to beat Florida and then would need at least one more high-quality win against a top team before heading home.
Stay tuned to KSR all week as we will keep you updated on this weekend’s tournament run and what could be next for the Kentucky baseball program.