By TIM LETCHER, UK Media Relations
LEXINGTON, Ky. – After a five-game road trip, the Kentucky baseball team returns to Cliff Hagan Stadium this weekend to face No. 1 Florida in a three-game, SEC series.
Kentucky (25-12, 7-8 SEC) had a productive road trip, winning three of its five games, including taking two of three contests at No. 18 Georgia over the weekend. UK closer Chris Machamer had a big week, recording a win and two saves, which earned him SEC Pitcher of the Week honors.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats will get perhaps their stiffest test of the season this weekend from the top-ranked and defending national champion Gators. Florida sports a sparkling 32-7 record, including a 12-3 mark in SEC play. The Gators have won five of their last six games, and 14 of their last 16 overall.
Both teams played on Tuesday night, with Kentucky falling at Louisville 8-2, while Florida lost at home to Jacksonville 8-4.
Kentucky and Florida win in different ways. The Wildcats lead the SEC in slugging percentage (.520), on-base percentage (.418), runs batted in (271) and are second in batting average (.307), runs (289) and home runs (59). On the other hand, Florida leads the league in opposing batting average (.220) and triples allowed (0), while ranking second in the SEC in ERA (3.09) and runs allowed (128).
On offense, Florida is paced by Jonathan India, who is putting together an incredible season. The junior third baseman leads the SEC, and is fourth in the country, with a .438 batting average. His .860 slugging percentage also leads the conference, and is third in the country. And his .562 on-base percentage leads nation. India has 12 home runs, which is second to teammate Wil Dalton, who hit his 13th homer on Tuesday night.
Kentucky’s offense is led by junior Kole Cottam and senior Luke Heyer, who are tied for the SEC lead (with Florida’s Dalton), and are fifth in the nation, with 13 home runs apiece. Heyer leads the SEC with 42 runs batted in, while senior catcher Troy Squires is second with 39. Junior outfielder Tristan Pompey leads the Wildcats with a .349 batting average and a .458 on-base percentage.
The series will begin on Thursday night, with Kentucky sending Zach Haake to the mound to face Florida’s top pitcher, Brady Singer. Haake will be making his fifth start of the season, and his 11th appearance overall. The junior right-hander is 1-3 with an 8.20 ERA this season. He has struck out 26 batters, but has also walked 18 in 26.1 innings. Singer is 7-1 this year with a 2.79 ERA. In 58 innings pitched this year, the junior has allowed just 38 hits while striking out 63 and walking 14.
On Friday, Kentucky will throw ace Sean Hjelle, while Florida will counter with Jackson Kowar. Hjelle, the defending SEC Pitcher of the Year, is 5-2 this season with a 3.09 ERA. The right-hander has pitched 58.1 innings this season, allowing 46 hits, striking out 53 batters while walking just nine. Kowar has a 6-1 record with a 2.70 ERA. In 56.2 innings of work, the junior has allowed 46 hits while striking out 54 batters and walking just 22.
In Saturday’s series finale, Kentucky will have Justin Lewis on the hill to face Florida’s Tyler Dyson. Lewis is coming off his best outing of the season, which came on Saturday at Georgia. The junior pitched seven innings and did not allow a run, striking out eight as the Wildcats scratched out a 1-0 win to claim the series. Overall this season, Lewis is 6-2 with a 4.64 ERA. His 64 strikeouts are tops on the team and sixth in the SEC. Dyson is 5-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 2018. In 46.1 innings, the sophomore has allowed 42 hits, striking out 49 while walking just 18.
Both teams have outstanding closers as well. Florida’s Michael Byrne leads the SEC with 10 saves, while Kentucky’s Machamer has six saves this season, including five this month.
Thursday’s game begins at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen on the SEC Network. Friday’s game is set for a 7:30 p.m. ET first pitch and is also on the SEC Network. Saturday’s game begins at 1 p.m. ET and can be seen on SEC Network+. All three games will also be available on radio via the UK Sports Network (630 WLAP in the Lexington area).