Cats vs Vols tonight in opener of 3 game set

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Wildcats face the Tennessee Volunteers tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET in Cliff Hagan Stadium in the opening game of a 3-game series, needing all the wins they can to qualify for the SEC tournament in three weeks. Left-hander James Paxton draws the opening nod on the mound. Saturday's contest will be televised live by Fox Sports Net as the SEC game of the week.

The game Saturday will start at 4 p.m. ET and will be televised live on Fox Sports Net as the SEC Game of the Week, with Sunday's finale slated for a 1 p.m. ET first pitch. All games will be broadcast 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. For Saturday's televised tilt, Dave Baker (play-by-play) and Larry Conley (color) will handle broadcasting duties.

Kentucky (22-22, 7-14 SEC) enters the series in 10th place overall in the SEC standings, one game behind Auburn (8-13) for ninth and two games behind South Carolina (9-12) for eighth place. The SEC takes the top eight teams, bases on winning percentage, to the SEC Tournament, held May 20-24 in Hoover, Ala. South Carolina hosts seventh-place Vanderbilt (10-10) and Auburn welcomes No. 7 Ole Miss (13-8) this weekend. Next weekend in the SEC, UK hosts Auburn, Vanderbilt travels to No. 6 Georgia (14-7) and South Carolina travels to Tennessee.

UK will send James Paxton (4-2, 5.53 ERA) to the mound Friday for his 11th start of the year. Paxton, a native of Ladner, British Columbia, left the game after seven complete innings Friday at Alabama with a two-run lead, but a seven-run UA eighth inning led to the series-opening win. Paxton struck out 11 in the start Friday, his fifth 10 or more strikeout game of the year. Saturday, UK will start senior southpaw Chris Rusin (5-3, 3.73 ERA). In his 10th start of the year Saturday at No. 21 Alabama, Rusin turned in one of his best career starts, hurling his third complete-game of the year while handcuffing the hot-hitting Crimson Tide into a season-low one unearned run, striking out nine without issuing a walk. Last Sunday, UK freshman Alex Meyer (1-3, 4.67 ERA) made his seventh consecutive SEC weekend start but took a line drive, off the bat of Alabama shortstop Josh Rutledge, off the calf, making his status for Sunday's game against UT uncertain, with the starter Sunday to be announced. After getting hit with the line-drive single, Meyer finished off the game, hurling the game of his career, striking out 11 in seven innings, allowing only two earned runs and walking one.

Tennessee (20-25, 6-15 SEC) has won two of its last three conference series, including a win at No. 1 LSU and a win over Mississippi State. Last weekend, UT lost its series against Arkansas losing 9-3 Friday and 15-8 Sunday. UT's 5-4 win Saturday came in walk-off fashion, as a throwing error on a botched pick-off attempt with two out in the bottom of the ninth, scored the winning run from first base, in the form of speedster P.J. Polk.

The Volunteers have been led by a .287 team batting average and a 6.05 team ERA. Polk (.333, 9 2B, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 6-6 SB), Cody Hawn (.361, 13 2B, 17 HR, 67 RBI), Blake Forsythe (.321, 11 2B, 12 HR, 36 RBI), Josh Liles (.313, 6 2B, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 8-10 SB) and preseason All-American outfielder Kentrail Davis (.298, 10 2B, 7 HR, 26 RBI) headline the UT lineup. In the bullpen, Matt Ramsey (0-3, 6.20 ERA) has appeared in a team-high 19 games, with Will Locante (1-1, 5.52 ERA), Danny Wiltz (1-1, 5.95 ERA), Bryan Morgado (2-1, 6.12 ERA) and Steven Gruver (0-1, 6.49 ERA) appearing in 15 or more games.

The Wildcats have been led offensively by its sophomore second baseman Chris Bisson, in his first year as an everyday player. Bisson has excelled, leading UK in at bats (181), runs (40), hits (66), doubles (9), triples (2) and RBI (46), while adding steals in 12 of 14 attempts. Veterans Chris Wade (.296, 8 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 35 RBI, 14-16 SB), Marcus Nidiffer (.295, 5 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 25 RBI), Keenan Wiley (.256, 3 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 11-12 SB) and Chris McClendon (.247, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 3-4 SB) anchoring the lineup. UK has relied heavily on freshmen, with outfielder and lead-off man Chad Wright (.338, 5 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 6-8 SB) emerging as a legitimate freshman All-America candidate. Fellow freshmen Braden Kapteyn (.298, 7 2B, 2 HR), Andy Burns (.293, 7 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 25 RBI) and Cory Farris (.258, 9 RBI) have had significant roles in the lineup. In the UK bullpen, Kapteyn (3-0, 6.33 ERA, 3 saves), Clint Tilford (1-4, 6.04 ERA) and Logan Darnell (4-5, 4.94 ERA) have proved to be work horses, with the freshman righty, Kapteyn, striking out 36 in 27 innings. Darnell, a native of Joelton, Tenn., has appeared in a team-high 22 games out of the bullpen. As a whole, the UK bullpen has posted a 10-12 record and a 6.14 ERA, allowing 43-of-91 inherited runners to score.

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