LEXINGTON, Ky. – For the third straight weekend, the Kentucky Wildcats will face a Top 10 opponent in a three-game weekend series. Beginning on Friday, the No. 6 Wildcats welcome No. 9 Auburn to Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Cats took two of three from No. 3. Texas Tech two weeks ago before being swept in last weekend’s Southeastern Conference-opening series. They rebounded in a big way on Tuesday night, pounding Xavier 20-4 in a game that was called after eight innings due to darkness (Xavier does not have lights). The Wildcats (15-6, 0-3 SEC) crushed seven home runs in the game, including two apiece from Kole Cottam and Luke Heyer.
The Wildcat offense has made it a habit of hitting the long ball this season. Kentucky is tied with Tennessee Tech for the national lead in home runs with 40. Among individuals, Heyer is tied for third nationally with 10 bombs this year, while Cottam and T.J. Collett have each hit nine, tying them for sixth in the country. UK is the only team in the country to have three players with at least nine home runs.
Kentucky’s offense is much more than just home runs though. The Wildcats are second in the country in slugging percentage (.533) and fifth in the country in on-base percentage (.433) and runs (190).
Auburn (19-3, 2-1) rallied, but fell short on Tuesday, losing to Georgia Tech 6-4. The Tigers trailed 6-0, but got three runs in the eighth inning and a run in the ninth before falling short.
The Tigers won their first 15 games this season, and took two of three from Texas A&M to open SEC play last weekend. Auburn’s offense has been explosive at times this season, scoring more than 20 runs twice (including a 25-1 win over Longwood in February) and scoring double-digit runs on eight occasions.
Auburn’s leading hitter is junior Brendan Venter, who is second in the SEC in hits (34) and third in batting average (.405).
Friday night’s game will feature two of the best pitchers not only in the SEC, but in the country. Kentucky will send ace Sean Hjelle, the defending SEC Pitcher of the Year, to the hill to face Auburn’s Casey Mize. Hjelle is 4-1 on the season with a 2.40 ERA and has given up just 18 hits in 30 innings pitched so far this season. Mize sports a 5-0 record and a 1.93 ERA so far this season. The junior right-hander has struck out an SEC-best 51 batters in 32.2 innings, and threw a no-hitter against Northeastern on March 9.
On Saturday, Auburn will likely start sophomore right-hander Davis Daniel, who is 2-0 this season with a 4.35 ERA. Daniel pitched 4.2 innings against Texas A&M, giving up just one earned run and striking out five. Kentucky will counter with a starter to be determined.
Sunday, Auburn will likely go with freshman righty Tanner Burns, while Kentucky will counter with junior right-hander Justin Lewis. Burns has started five games and has a 2-2 record despite a 2.05 ERA. He gave up just two runs in his last start, against Texas A&M, but was saddled with the loss. Lewis had his toughest outing of the season so far in his last start, as the Wildcats fell to Arkansas. On the season, Lewis is 3-2 with a 6.91 ERA and has struck out a team-high 43 batters.
The weekend schedule, which could be changed due to weather, currently has the teams playing on Friday at 6:30, Saturday at noon and Sunday at 1 p.m. The Friday and Sunday games can be seen on SEC Network+, while Saturday’s game is on the SEC Network
#9 AUBURN at #6 KENTUCKY
Friday vs. #9 Auburn
6:30 p.m. ET; Cliff Hagan Stadium; Lexington, Ky.
Radio: 630 AM WLAP; ukathletics.com
Probables: UK RHP Sean Hjelle (4-1, 2.40) vs. Auburn RHP Casey Mize (5-0, 1.93)
Saturday vs. #9 Auburn
Noon ET; Cliff Hagan Stadium; Lexington, Ky.
Online: SEC Network and SECN+
Radio: 98.5 FM or 630 AM WLAP; ukathletics.com
Probables: TBA vs. Auburn RHP Davis Daniel (2-0, 4.35)
Postgame: Kids run the bases
Sunday vs. #9 Auburn
1 p.m. ET; Cliff Hagan Stadium; Lexington, Ky.
Radio: 630 AM WLAP; ukathletics.com
Probables: UK RHP Justin Lewis (3-2, 6.91) vs. TBA