PREVIEW: Going for another series win

The Gamecocks are 2-for-2 in SEC series so far this season, and they'll look to win another against Kentucky at Carolina Stadium this weekend. But it may not be easy coming off a massive series win over then-No. 1 Florida and with a couple of key components out of the line-up. John Klauber tells you what to expect this weekend.

KENTUCKY Wildcats

Record: 15-11. Home: 13-3; Away: 1-4; Neutral: 1-4; SEC: 2-4.


Kentucky is an anomaly to South Carolina's program. How else can you explain the Gamecocks' record with them over the past five years… since 2006? In that stretch of time, USC's record against the baseball Wildcats is 7-8 and there aren't too many other teams… especially in the SEC East, where Carolina has a losing record during the same time frame. The lack of success during that time came when Kentucky baseball hit its zenith; in '06, they won 66% of their games in the conference.

They had quality wins over LSU (#8), at Tennessee (#12), Ole Miss (#23), Vanderbilt (#21) and a sweep over the SEC leader, South Carolina.

Under Coach John Cohen, that was the best year Kentucky baseball had seen in a long, long time. This year, ‘Cat basketball has taken its prominent role at Kentucky and baseball is left to fend for itself.

Over the next three years, Carolina enjoyed taking 2 of 3 from the ‘Cats, up until last year, when some very good Wildcat pitching in Lexington took USC by surprise. The Gamecocks ended up going 1-2 against them last year; it was our only series loss last year until the Florida series in Columbia.

After the Wildcats were swept in Tuscaloosa against the Tide last weekend and picked up a 2-out-of-3 series win to start conference play against Tennessee in Lexington, an unpredictable 2-4 Kentucky team comes to Columbia to battle a Yardcock team that is missing a few pieces.

Kentucky has done a good job of putting points on the board, their top six in the batting order are hitting over .300; Kentucky's offense ranks #5 (.302) in batting average going into our match-up; South Carolina is #8 (.296).

Hitting… 6 hitters return from the '10 team to contribute in '11. The Kentucky batters are very good at getting hits, being aggressive at the plate (double digit K's in the 1,3,4,5 spots). Batters 1, 2, and 3 will do a good job of waiting on their pitch and many have been benefactors of the double-digit walk.

Coach Henderson will rotate his line-up to match his needs.

Two of his hitters (one of them is his first baseman) are his primary late-inning relievers, Braden Kapteyn (2 saves) and Mike Kaczmarek (4 saves).

Kapteyn is used with regularity in the Kentucky batting order and at first base; his bat is solid enough to use him as a DH on occasion, but mostly he can be found at first. Kaczmerek will be used as a substitute DH when his time to come in as a reliever is near. Both can pitch and DH simultaneously when they take the bump in relief; almost always in late inning relief.

Their batting order is as follows:

5, Taylor Black SS (R/R,Sr): .343BA, 105AB, 25r, 32h, 1HR, 19RBI, 10w, 11k (.418 obp).

24, Chad Wright LF(L/R,Jr): .344BA, 93AB, 17r, 32h, 3HR, 19RBI, 13w, 9k (.462 obp).

30, Braden Kapteyn DH/1B/P (RHP,R/R,Jr.): .310BA, 100AB, 21r, 31h, 3HR, 25RBI, 8w, 11k (.412 obp).

25, Thomas McCarthy 3B (R/R,Jr.): .303BA, 99AB, 17r, 30h, 2HR, 11RBI, 14w, 18k (.410 obp).

10, J.T. Riddle 2B/RF (L/R,Fr.): .349BA, 63AB, 10r, 22h, 2HR, 11RBI, 9w, 10k (.440 obp).

21, Luke Maile C/1B (R/R,So.): .310BA, 87AB, 15r, 27h, 2HR, 16RBI, 9w, 24k (.394 obp).

16, Brian Adams CF (R/R,So.): .323BA, 65AB, 12r, 21h, 9RBI, 4w, 20k (.397 obp).

6, Matt Rieda 2B (L/R,Fr.): .244BA, 41AB, 6r, 10h, 5RBI, 7w, 12K (.367 obp).

7, Lucas Witt CF (R/R,Fr.): .333BA, 27AB, 3r, 9h, 3RBI, 6w, 4k (.457 obp).

35, Michael Williams C (R/R,Jr.): .232BA, 82AB, 10r, 19h, 3HR, 12RBI, 6w, 14k (.292 obp).

23, Mike Kaczmarek LHP/CF/ph (L/L,Sr.): .321BA, 28AB, 5r, 9h, 1HR, 2RBI, 2w, 2k (.367 obp).

4, Paul McConkey 2B (L/R,Fr.): .179BA, 28AB, 7r, 5h, 1RBI, 4w, 3k (.324 obp).

3, Nieko Johnson 2B/RF (R/R,R.S.Sr.): .308BA, 13AB, 2r, 4h, 1w, 1k (.400 obp).

22, Dallen Reber 3B (R/R,Fr.): .500BA, 8AB, 2r, 4h, 1HR, 3RBI, 1w, 1k (.600 obp).

TOTAL: Kentucky (team) Batting Average: .307; (team) On Base Percentage: .404 Opponent (team) Batting Average: .285; (team) On Base Percentage: .353

Pitching… gone from last year is Friday starter Logan Darnell. Unfortunately, most of the guys we saw from last year's Saturday and Sunday games return as starters this year!

There are a few changes to note from their staff that returned from last year. Their Friday starter, Matt Little (RHP; Jr.), was their leading closer from last year. Little did a good job of making the move from closer to Friday starter and did it with a solid mid-90's fastball. He has grown more accustomed to throwing it with a little less velocity (low 90's) and has improved the consistent location of where his fastball will land. It also helps him extend his stay on the bump as he averages well over 100 pitches/outing (@ 119 pitches/game). He has done a good job of developing a big sweeping slider, which he had last year, but lands it much more effectively this year. He has given up runs against SEC competition (2 and 4 runs earned against UT and Bama) but does a good job of keeping a game within reaching distance for the offense behind him. Very solid as a strike out pitcher; averages about 1.34 strikeouts/inning.

Saturday starts are provided by Jordan Cooper (RHP, So.) a role he fulfilled for Kentucky during last year; he would start either as their Saturday or Sunday starter. Cooper possesses a low to mid 90's fastball and throws it with accuracy. He possesses a quality second pitch as well. Cooper has struggled a bit to date with SEC competition, giving up 9 earned runs against Tennessee and 5 earned runs against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He may have a difficult time in Columbia if he cannot locate the strike zone consistently… just as he did in Tuscaloosa (he threw only 39 pitches before he was pulled).

Taylor Rodgers (LHP, So.) comes in as the Sunday starter for the Wildcats this year. His upside from last year was huge; did a very good job of controlling his pitches and providing Kentucky a shot at series wins last year. So, far, he has done well for the Wildcats even though his current 1-1 SEC record doesn't reflect what he is capable of providing the ‘Cats as a Sunday starter. He has maintained an above average fastball with a lot of movement and can mix it with a solid curveball.

Rodgers will not overpower you with what he will pitch, but he will establish the first pitch as a strike. Batters have to respect his ability, because he is capable of mixing in change-up pitch to extend his innings well beyond the first time around the opponent batting order. He had a tough outing against the Tide last weekend in an away game and it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back from a very determined South Carolina team this weekend.

Mike Kazmereck (LHP, Sr.) and Braden Kapteyn (RHP, Jr.) are both excellent closers for Kentucky; Kennedy (RHP, R.S. Sr.) comes in as a late-inning reliever/weekday closer. Kazmereck throws a controlled fastball in thelow-90s with a lot of movement from a 3/4s arm slot. He will use a change-up and curve to continue relief and get the save. He is "king" of the Kentucky saves with 4. Kapteyn has excellent sink on his low to mid 90's fastball. Has a reliable slider that he will use in conjunction with his fastball; everything comes in low but within the strike zone. Very effective as a final inning closer and is used as such.

Walter Wijas (RHP, So.), Trevor Gott (RHP, Fr.), Alex Phillips (LHP, Jr.) are three pitchers you will see that come into the game for the ‘Cats to provide early relief when needed. Wijas, Gott and Phillips are pitchers that have over 10 innings of relief pitching under their belts with relatively low ERA numbers with double digit strikeouts. They can extend a close game until their hitters can make a difference. Here is a close look at their pitching staff; their starters, closers and middle relief:

17, Alex Meyer (RHP,R/R,Jr.): 3.05ERA, 3-3, 41.1IP, 30h, 16r(14e), 21w, 54k (.214 oba).

31, Jordan Cooper (RHP,S/R,So.): 6.25ERA, 1-1, 1SV, 31.2IP, 46h, 27r(22e), 14w, 20k (.354 oba).

34, Taylor Rodgers (LHP,L/L,So.): 5.45ERA, 2-2, 34.2IP, 48h, 25r(21e), 4w, 28k (.327 oba).

23, Mike Kazmarek (LHP,L/L,Sr.): 1.23ERA, 4SV, 7.1IP, 4h, 1r(1e), 1w, 5k (.160 oba).

12, Corey Littrell (LHP,L/L,Fr.): 5.17ERA, 4-1, 31.1IP, 32H, 20R(18E),11w, 27K (.260 oba).

29, Trevor Gott (RHP,R/R,Fr.): 0.00ERA, 1-2, 1SV, 17.IP, 17h, 10r(0e), 9w, 20k (.258 oba).

8, Walter Wijas (RHP,R/R,So.): 1.31ERA, 3-0, 20.2IP, 24h, 5r(3e), 5w, 17k (.289 oba).

44, Alex Phillips (LHP,L/L,Jr.): 2.63ERA, 1-1, 13.2IP, 17h, 5r(4e), 1w, 13k (.309 oba).

14, Nick Kennedy (RHP,R/R,R.S.Sr.): 3.00ERA, 9.1IP, 12h, 3r(3e), 3w, 6k (.324 oba).

30, Braden Kapteyn (RHP,R/R,Jr.): 6.10ERA, 0-1, 2SV, 10.1IP, 8h, 7r(7e), 2w, 19k (.216 oba).

26, Jonathon Paquet (RHP,R/R,Fr.): 4.76ERA, 4-3, 11.1IP, 15h, 6r(6e), 5w, 10k (.319 oba).

TOTAL:

Kentucky (team) ERA: 3.90; Kentucky pitching, on base avg.: .285. Opponent (team) ERA: 5.66; Opponent pitching, on base avg.: .307.

With the loss of Adam Matthews in the order this weekend, it means a few Yardcock hitters will have to pick up their game. You can count on Beary to continue his production; we need to see Evan get his hits. It is tough that we loose our lead-off man but this provides someone an opportunity to shine; a Yardcock trademark.

We may get a chance to see some "new" heroes step up to play some ball. An opportunity to see Patrick Harrington or Eric Brodzinski get a chance to produce at the plate would only pay dividends in the long run. Getting time to face an SEC pitcher would only help their cause and this may be the best of series to give it a shot with these two freshmen. Carolina batters will have to pace the production of runs and control the pace of the game.

If the alternative occurs, it could be a tough weekend for Gamecock fans. I don't believe last weekend's series win with Florida will provide this team with a "hangover" or let down; I think it will only motivate them to win this series. We need to have everyone motivated by this series, including Gamecock fans in attendance. This Gamecock team will take care of its business this weekend… there is a lot to prove to critics, but mostly to themselves.

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