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Kentucky, Texas Tech Set for Top Five Showdown Series

Justin Lewis (Butch Dills Photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. The No. 6 Kentucky baseball team is off to an outstanding start, winning 12 of its first 14 games this season, including a sweep of three strong opponents at last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston.

That event provided Kentucky with a step up in competition. This weekend, the Wildcats will face an even bigger challenge, as the No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders visit Lexington for a three-game weekend series at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

Texas Tech heads to Lexington sporting a perfect 14-0 record, the best start in school history, including a four-game sweep of nationally-ranked South Alabama last weekend. The Red Raiders have been dominant, outscoring their opponents 125-35 so far in 2018. Tech is ninth nationally in slugging percentage (.533), 10th in runs, and 15th in team batting average (.328). Pitching has also been a strength for the Red Raiders, who are fourth in the nation in shutouts (three) and seventh in ERA (1.93).

The Wildcats also rank high nationally in many hitting and pitching categories. Kentucky is second nationally in home runs (28), third in slugging percentage (.609) and 11th in batting average (.335). On the mound, Kentucky is sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.92) and 14th in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6).

Kentucky is coming off an 8-6 loss to Northern Kentucky on Wednesday night, with Tristan Pompey and Troy Squires each belting home runs for the Cats in the game. Texas Tech also played on Wednesday, beating New Mexico 7-2 behind Michael Davis’ first home run of the season.

Individually, Kentucky has been led by defending NCBWA National Player of the Week Luke Heyer. The senior from Lithia, Florida, is tied for the national lead in home runs (eight), is second in slugging percentage (1.109) and is 12th in batting average (.476).

Sophomore T.J. Collett is tied with Heyer for the national lead in home runs. Collett is hitting .375 with a team-high 25 RBIs. Junior Ben Aklinski is third on the team, hitting .351, while Kole Cottam is batting .346 with four home runs.

Kentucky has been without Pompey, a preseason All-American outfielder, due to an injured ankle although the junior has made some pinch-hitting appearances lately. Pompey’s status for this weekend remains day-to-day.

The Texas Tech offense has three regulars hitting over .400 on the season. Left fielder Grant Little leads the team with a .442 batting average and has scored a team-high 21 runs. Second baseman Gabe Holt is second on the team with a .429 average and has stolen team-high eight bases. First baseman Cameron Warren is hitting .425 this season, and leads the team with a .544 on-base percentage.

The three-game set gets underway on Friday, when Kentucky ace and defending SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle takes the hill against Texas Tech right-hander Davis Miller. Hjelle is 3-0 this season with a 0.92 ERA. He has pitched 19.2 innings in three starts this season, striking out 18 batters while walking only three. Miller has also been impressive, with a 3-0 record and a 0.60 ERA. The junior has struck out 13 batters in 15 innings this season.

On Saturday, Kentucky will send Zack Thompson to the mound to face Tech’s John McMillon. Thompson had his best outing of the season last Saturday, pitching six shutout innings in UK’s win over Sam Houston State at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The sophomore lefty owns a 2-0 record this year, with a 5.52 ERA, and has struck out 18 batters in 14.2 innings. McMillon is 3-0 this season with a 1.69 ERA. The sophomore right-hander has struck out 18 batters in 16 innings.

In Sunday’s series finale, Kentucky will start Justin Lewis on the mound, while Tech will likely counter with senior lefty Dylan Dusek. Lewis also sports a 3-0 record on the season, and the right-hander has a 2.95 ERA. He has struck out a team-high 27 batters while walking just two. Dusek got his first start of the season in a Tech win over South Alabama last weekend, pitching four strong innings and allowing just two earned runs while striking out seven.

Friday’s first pitch is set for 4 p.m. ET, followed by 1 p.m. ET starts on Saturday and Sunday. Each game can be seen on SEC Network+ and heard in the Lexington area on either 98.5 FM or 630 AM WLAP.

 

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