LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After opening up its 2008 season with 18 consecutive wins at home, the No. 10 Kentucky baseball team seeks to remain unblemished at Cliff Hagan Stadium, hosting the tradition-rich Mississippi State Bulldogs in a three-game set, beginning on Friday at Cliff Hagan.
Kentucky (23-4, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) meets the Bulldogs, who made the 2007 College World Series, Friday with a 6:30 p.m. ET first pitch. The game can be heard live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio) with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the game live on WLAP 630-AM and in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM.
The series will mark the final appearance at Cliff Hagan Stadium for the SEC's all-time winningest baseball coach, MSU skipper Ron Polk, who announced his retirement after a 34-season career. UK fifth-year head coach John Cohen, who claimed his 300th career win on Wednesday, played for Polk at Mississippi State from 1988-90, earning All-SEC honors as an outfielder in 1990, leading the Bulldogs to an appearance in the 1990 College World Series. Polk has claimed 1,363 total wins in his career.
UK notched a 7-3 mid-week win over a solid Western Kentucky team that sports upsets over then-ranked No. 5 Ole Miss and over the highly-touted Louisville Cardinals. UK rode two light-tower home runs from All-American centerfielder Collin Cowgill, who finished 3-for-4 with two RBI and three runs scored. Fellow outfielder Sawyer Carroll added three RBI, finishing the game 2-for-4 with his 10th double of the year. Aaron Lovett notched his first win of the season, one of five UK pitchers to see action.
The Wildcats trail the all-time series with the Bulldogs 28-50, including a 16-17 mark in Lexington. Last year, MSU notched the series win, claiming a walk-of 5-4 win over UK in the Sunday rubber match in Starkville. The Wildcats secured a series-evening 10-6 win that Saturday, in front of 10,324 fans at Dudy-Noble Field. UK swept MSU in 2006, pilling up 31 runs in a dominating sweep in Lexington. The Wildcats have claimed wins in four of the past six meetings in the series.
The Wildcats have been paced throughout the year by an explosive offensive unit and a veteran pitching staff. UK leads the league in 10 offensive categories, including batting average (.346, 28-points higher then the next team), slugging percentage (.573), on-base percentage (.449), runs scored (264), hits (315), RBI (239), total bases (521), hit by pitches (46), sac bunts (34) and sac flies (18). On the mound, UK has the lone sub-3.00 ERA in the SEC, a 2.96 mark, 56-points lower then the next best team-ERA in the conference.
Most impressively, UK has the best fielding percentage in the league, a .978 clip, committing an SEC-low 22 errors on the year, as well as allowing the fewest stolen bases in the conference.
Leading the way for UK has been its two national player of the year candidates in the outfield, Cowgill and Carroll. Carroll leads the SEC in batting average (.458), on-base percentage (.554), and RBI (41). Cowgill, a preseason All-American, leads the team with 10 home runs, hitting for a .385 average, ranking second in the league in runs scored (37) and fourth in homers. Cowgill's 33 RBI ranks tied for eighth in the league and his 84 total bases ranks second. One of the few five-tool players in college baseball, Cowgill has stolen 13 bases in 15 attempts, third-best in the league.
UK junior southpaw Chris Rusin (4-1, 2.52 ERA) will get the start for UK, taking the hill against MSU ace Chad Crosswhite (2-2, 11.78 ERA), returning from early-season injury, on Friday. Saturday, UK right hander Scott Green (2-1, 4.85 ERA) gets the call to face off with Lee Swindle (2-2, 4.91 ERA). Sunday, UK senior right hander Greg Dombrowski (4-0, 2.01 ERA) takes the hill to square off with Ricky Bowen (2-3, 6.62 ERA).
Kentucky – 23-4, 5-4 SEC
Mississippi State – 13-15, 2-7 SEC
Kentucky – No. 10 (Collegiate Baseball), No. 14 (NCBWA), No. 21 (Baseball America), No. 17
(USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll)
MSU – not ranked
Cats put 18-game home win streak on the line
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