HOOVER, Ala. – The Kentucky baseball team begins play in the SEC Tournament on Tuesday, facing Auburn in a single-elimination game at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Alabama. The Cats, seeded 10th in this week’s tournament, will face seventh-seeded Auburn at approximately 2 p.m. ET.
The Cats and the Tigers met earlier this season in a three-game series March 23-25 at Cliff Hagan Stadium. In the Friday game, Auburn All-American Casey Mize was outstanding, pitching seven innings and allowing just two earned runs while striking out 12. But Kentucky rallied against Auburn closer Calvin Coker, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win 5-4. The Cats tied the game on a two-run homer from Luke Heyer, and later won it when pinch runner Zeke Lewis scored on a wild pitch.
Rain on Saturday forced the teams into a Sunday doubleheader, with each game scheduled for seven innings. In the first game of the twin-bill, it was Auburn with a final-inning rally, as the Tigers scored four runs in the top of the seventh to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead. Kentucky would answer in the bottom of the seventh on a Ben Aklinski two-run homer to cut the lead to 4-3, but the Cats would get no closer.
Sunday’s second game was all about UK starting pitcher Justin Lewis and the UK offense. Lewis pitched five innings and, despite not having his best, gave up just one hit and one earned run while walking five and striking out two. On offense, Kentucky scored in each of its six at-bats, including a five-run third inning that turned a 3-1 UK lead into an 8-1 advantage. Tristan Pompey led the Wildcats’ offensive charge, with four hits, including a home run, and five runs batted in.
Kentucky continues to have one of the nation’s best offenses in 2018. Kentucky’s league-leading 80 home runs are tied for third in the country. The Wildcats lead the SEC, and are sixth in the country, in slugging percentage (.491). The Cats also lead the SEC, and are eighth in the country, in on-base percentage, at .401.
Individually, junior Kole Cottam and senior Luke Heyer, who were both named to the All-SEC first team on Monday, have set the pace for the Cats this season. Cottam is tied for the SEC lead, and is tied for eighth in the country, with 18 home runs. Cottam is also among the SEC leaders in batting average (eighth – .346), slugging percentage (third – .650), on-base percentage (ninth – .435), hits (sixth – 74) and RBIs (seventh – 48).
Heyer also has 18 home runs this season, tied with Cottam for tops in the SEC. Heyer, who was named a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist on Monday, is second in the league and 14th in the country in slugging percentage (.690). He is also among the SEC leaders in RBIs (first – 57), total bases (first – 140), on-base percentage (10th – .433) and hits (10th – 69).
Auburn will send freshman Jack Owen to the mound on Tuesday, while Kentucky has yet to name its starter. Owen is 2-2 with a 6.19 ERA this season. The lefty did not pitch against Kentucky earlier this season. In his last appearance, Owen started and pitched 4.1 innings against Troy on May 15. He allowed just one earned run and five hits while walking two and striking out six.
The winner of Tuesday’s Kentucky-Auburn game advances to the double-elimination portion of the tournament, facing third-seeded Ole Miss on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s game is schedule for a 2 p.m. ET first pitch on the SEC Network. Darren Headrick will have the radio call in the UK Sports Network.