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No. 13 Kentucky closes April with critical SEC home series

T.J. Collett (UK Athletics Photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. The 13th-ranked Kentucky baseball team hosts Missouri this weekend in a crucial SEC series for both teams.

Kentucky (27-14, 8-10 SEC) is coming off a 7-1 win over Morehead State on Wednesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Three freshman pitchers held the Eagles’ prolific offense scoreless for seven innings, while Luke Heyer added his 14th homer of the season in the win. Missouri topped Missouri State 8-2 on Tuesday night in Columbia as junior Brian Sharp picked up his fourth win of the season.

Now, the SEC Eastern Division rivals are prepared to meet in a three-game series beginning on Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

Last weekend, UK took the final game of a three-game set against top-ranked Florida to avoid a sweep. Meanwhile, Missouri, for the first time in school history, took a series from nationally-ranked Vanderbilt, winning the first two games of the series before dropping the series finale.

Missouri (28-13, 8-10) features one of the best pitching staffs in the SEC and the country. Tiger pitchers lead the SEC in strikeouts (401), fewest runs allowed (137), fewest home runs allowed (17), and Missouri is second in the league in team ERA (3.10).

UK continues to have one of the best offenses in the country. The Wildcats are first in the SEC and third in the country in slugging percentage (.505), while also first in the conference and fourth in the nation in on-base percentage (.410). The Wildcats also lead the SEC in walks (221) and sacrifice bunts (29).

Individually, UK is led by junior Kole Cottam and the senior, Heyer. Both players have 14 home runs this season, which is second in the SEC and tied for sixth in the nation. Heyer is second in the SEC and 16th in the country in slugging percentage (.695), second in the conference and 36th in the country in runs batted in, while ranking third in the SEC and 22nd in the nation in total bases (105).

Cottam is fourth in the conference and 26th in the country in total bases (103), while ranking sixth in the SEC and 44th in the country in slugging percentage (.652).

Missouri’s offense is led by sophomore outfielder Kameron Misner, who leads the team in batting average (.360), on-base percentage (.497), slugging percentage (.576) and doubles (nine). Senior Trey Harris leads Missouri in home runs (seven) and is second on the team in batting average (.316), slugging percentage (.494) and doubles (seven). Harris had a monster series against Kentucky in Columbia last season, hitting four home runs in three games against the Cats.

Not to be outdone, UK’s Tristan Pompey had his own big series against Missouri last season. Over the three-game set, Pompey was eight for 12 with a double, two home runs, three runs scored and three runs batted in.

On Friday night, UK will send junior Sean Hjelle to the mound to face Missouri sophomore T.J. Sikkema. Hjelle, the 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year, is 5-3 this season with a 3.31 ERA. In 65.1 innings of work, the right-hander has struck out 58 while walking just 12. Sikkema is 3-3 with a 2.64 ERA this season. He has thrown 44.1 innings this season, allowing 41 hits while striking out 50 and walking just 12.

Saturday’s game will feature UK junior Zach Haake against Missouri junior Michael Plassmeyer. Haake got the start on Thursday against Florida and was dominant for two innings, retiring all six batters he faced, including three strikeouts. Haake is 1-3 this season with a 7.62 ERA. Plassmeyer won his first four decisions of the season before dropping his last two. The junior has a 4-2 record with a 2.48 ERA this season.

On Sunday, UK will pitch Justin Lewis, while Missouri has yet to determine its starter. Lewis had his best outing of the season, and maybe his career, in Saturday’s win over top-ranked Florida. Lewis allowed a leadoff double, then did not allow another hit over eight innings as the Cats beat the Gators 3-2. For his efforts, Lewis was named SEC Pitcher of the Week.

Friday’s game will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on the SEC Network. Saturday’s first pitch is set for 2 p.m. ET, and that game is on SEC Network+. On Sunday, the Cats and Tigers will meet at 1 p.m., and that game is also on SEC Network+. All games can also be heard on the radio via the UK Sports Network. Locally, 630 WLAP will carry all three games.


Friday at Kentucky

    7:30 p.m. ET; Cliff Hagan Stadium; Lexington, Ky.

    TV/Online: SEC Network

    Radio: 630 AM WLAP Lexington;

    Probables: MU – LHP TJ Sikkema (3-3, 2.64) vs. UK – RHP Sean Hjelle (5-3, 3.31)


Saturday at Kentucky

    2 p.m. ET; Cliff Hagan Stadium; Lexington, Ky.

    TV/Online: SECN+

    Radio: 630 AM WLAP;

    Probables: MU – LHP Michael Plassmeyer (4-2, 2.48) vs. UK – RHP Zach Haake (1-3, 7.62)


Sunday at Kentucky

    1 p.m. ET; Cliff Hagan Stadium; Lexington, Ky.

    TV/Online: SECN+

    Radio: 630 AM WLAP;

    Probables: MU – TBA vs. UK – RHP Justin Lewis (7-2, 4.03)

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