Preview: Gamecocks travel to Lexington

The SEC-leading South Carolina Gamecocks (35-9, 16-5) SEC baseball team is the only program in the conference to win every SEC series this season. The Gamecocks look to continue that streak this weekend when they travel to Lexington, Ky. for another key SEC match-up as the Kentucky Wildcats (24-20, 7-14 SEC) fight for their post-season lives. Look inside as John Klauber previews the Wildcats.

(24-20 overall; Home: 15-8; SEC 7-14).

National Polls: #6 South Carolina (Baseball America), #4 South Carolina (Collegiate Baseball), #7 South Carolina (ESPN/USA Today), #11 South Carolina (NCBWA). NCAA Men's Baseball RPI ranks: South Carolina: #14 (18), Kentucky: #27 (24). South Carolina #1 in SECe/#1 in SEC; Kentucky #5 in SECe and in a three way battle to make the Tournament in Hoover. Possible TV coverage for some games via BBSN (The Big Blue Sports Network) via FS South Regional network...check your local listings. Friday and Saturday games are 7pm (EST) starts; Sunday start at 1pm.

Kentucky comes into this weekend series... desperately needing some wins. After losing two of three to Tennessee last weekend, the Wildcats find themselves in one heck of a tussle with Alabama, Tennessee for the 8th and final slot at Hoover next week. Last weekend's loss to Tennessee cost them the tie breaker; Kentucky took two of three from Alabama in Lexington during the fourth weekend of SEC Conference play. They will face a South Carolina team which will want to extend its winning streak on the road and has done just that in a variety of ways this season. Kentucky will face LSU in Lexington next week and will travel to UGA and Athens for the final weekend of SEC regular season play.

Kentucky had final examinations this week, which leads them into an at-home series this weekend with the Gamecocks. Sometimes an exam break can help a team get their minds off baseball and concentrate on academic pursuits. The key to this particular weekend for them (specifically) is to take care of business (academics), but do not lose focus on the sport you are playing... especially if you just dropped 2 of 3 in Knoxville. They can ill-afford to take this series lightly, given where they are in tournament standings. Kentucky is a "wounded bear" at this point in their schedule and they will take a win anyway they can get one, in hopes of multiple wins. As for Carolina, maintaining momentum and growing accustomed to winning is paramount before going to Fayetteville, then taking on the Gators in Columbia. But it starts with Kentucky this weekend; the Wildcats have our focus.

340-365-390-350-310... these are the dimensions of Cliff-Hagen Stadium, a stadium that faces South from the press box to outfield wall. A stadium greatly affected by wind direction when it comes to hits; more so than most other parks in the SEC because of its position. Carolina Stadium is 325 down the lines and 390 at center, so that wall at 310 in right field attracts the attention of visiting hitters, especially if the winds are blowing WNW. Cliff-Hagen becomes a launching pad at that point. Should the wind gust from the South/SW, it becomes a pitcher's park... but pitchers always have to be aware. they need to get that sinking motion (keep pitches down), no matter where the wind is coming from.

Friday evening's forecast is windy with 20-30 mph gusts out of the South... pitcher's forecast. Saturday evening's forecast is variable winds at 19 mph out of the WNW...hitter's forecast. Sunday afternoon's forecast is for mild winds (@ 6 mph) out of the North... hitter's forecast. These are weather forecasts only, no wagering. Should the forecasts hold true, they could favor Gamecock hitting (against their Saturday/Sunday starters) and pitching... Yardcock pitchers on the mound Friday and Sunday... Saturday/Sunday starters will have to keep the ball low, in control and stay ahead of Kentucky hitters. All parks have their "traps"... wind has always been a large factor of Cliff-Hagen Stadium's mystique.

Kentucky is 15-8 at home... 4-5 at home in SEC play. Kentucky is always safest if they can play with a lead; if they lead after 7 innings, they are 20-2. If they are trailing after 7 innings they are 3-16. If they are held to two runs or less, they are 0-5. They haven't performed well under the lights (our Friday and Saturday games are 7pm starts), their record is 7-9 during night games. Their current record against right-handed starters is 14-12; their record against left-handed starters is 10-8. They have played solid competition during their OOC schedule... against #9 Louisville (won one out of two), #16 Virginia Tech (beat 'em in Myrtle Beach), #7 Coastal Carolina (beat 'em in M.B.) and #22 San Diego (beat 'em in San Diego). At home, they've taken a series (2/3) from Bama; won one out of three against Florida and Ole Miss.

Kentucky is currently #9 in team batting among the SEC (.298 BA) and rank #169 on a national ranking basis. UK batter Chris Bisson leads the SEC in stolen bases (24 SB-31ATT). Bisson also leads the team in walks with .59 walks/game. They are hitting .298 (.489 SP) as a team, with their opponents hitting .289 (.418 SP). They are currently ranked #133 in the nation and #10/SEC in scored runs/game (7.1); Carolina is #102 (5th in SEC) w/ 7.5 runs/game. South Carolina has made up some ground recently in the number of homeruns hit during games, which is a stat that favors Kentucky... they are ranked #20 in the nation (#2 in SEC) for total Homeruns hit (65 to date). South Carolina is #36 in the nation (#5 in SEC) with 57. The average homeruns per game statistic is similar, with Kentucky ranked #17 in the nation (#2 in SEC) averaging 1.48 homeruns/game.

Let's take a look at the Kentucky batting order with a note how each hitter does against left handed and right handed pitchers:

#29, Chris Bisson, 2B (L-R, Jr.); Lead-off hitter; .342BA, 178AB, 29r, 2HR, 33RBI (.489SP). Avg./LHP:.328; avg./RHP:.352. (obp: .440)

#24, Chad Wright, LF (L-R, So.); second slot; .343BA, 178AB, 29r, 2HR, 33RBI (.461SP). Avg/LHP: .387; avg./RHP: .319. (obp: .417)

#11, Gunner Glad, 1B (R-R, R.S.Sr.); 3rd slot; .351BA, 168AB, 36r, 10HR, 40RBI (.601SP). Avg/LHP: .333; avg/RHP: .360. (obp: .423)

#10, Lance Ray, LF/1B/ph (L-R, Jr.); 4th slot; .338BA, 74AB, 14r, 6HR, 18RBI (.703SP). Avg/LHP: .333; avg/RHP: .340. (obp: .419)

#46, Keenan Wiley, CF (L-L, R.S.Sr.); 5 & 7 slot; .319BA, 160AB, 31r, 4HR, 29RBI (.444SP). Avg/LHP: .315; avg/RHP: .321 (obp: .392)

#8, Andy Burns, 3B (R-R, So.); 6 slot; .272BA, 158AB, 35r, 11HR, 26RBI (.563SP). Avg/LHP: .245; avg/RHP: .286 (obp: .355)

#44, Cory Farris, ph/RF/LF (L-R, So.); 7 slot; .257BA, 105AB, 18r, 7HR, 23RBI (.505SP). Avg/LHP: .273; avg/RHP: .253 (obp: .328)

#12, Marcus Nidiffer, C (R-R, R.S.Sr.); 8 slot; .276BA, 105AB, 20r, 6HR, 20RBI (.495SP). Avg/LHP: .394; avg/RHP: .222 (obp: .395)

#5, Taylor Black, SS (R-R, Jr.); 9 slot; .283BA, 138AB, 34r, 7HR, 28RBI (.471SP). Avg/LHP: .209; avg/RHP: .316 (obp: .380)

Others seeing playing time and rotation within the batting order (SEC play):

#30, Brandon Kapteyn, DH/p (R-R, RHP, So.); .289BA, 128AB, 27r, 5HR, 24RBI (.453SP). Avg/LHP: .364; avg/RHP: .250 (obp: .413)

#4, Michael Williams, DH/C (R-R, So.); .240BA, 25AB, 3r, 6RBI, (.360SP). (obp: .424)

#21, Luke Maile, C/DH (R-R, Fr.); .200BA, 25AB, 3r, 2HR, 4RBI (.440SP). (obp: .474)

Kentucky pitching is key for their success this weekend. Friday: Logan Darnell (L-L, LHP, Jr.); Saturday: Taylor Rodgers (L-L, LHP, Fr.); Sunday: Jordan Cooper (R-R, RHP, Fr.). Coach John Cohen (former UK Skipper... now H.C at MSU) recruited a top 5 class in the nation back in 2008. What made it a highly ranked class was the number of top-notched pitchers recruited from within and around Kentucky... Illinois, Tennessee; even Colorado and a Transfer Jr from California. Most are Freshmen pitchers on this year's team; many have had opportunities to work with some of the high caliber pitchers that are on (and off) the current Kentucky pitching staff.

James Paxton was tabbed as everyone's favorite SEC pitcher to return to the Wildcats in 2010, but it wasn't meant to be. His "inability" to meet with the NCAA to discuss post draft interaction with the Toronto Blue Jays and others involved with his draft lead to his inability to pitch for Kentucky. Coach Gary Henderson, present skipper of the Widlcats knew he had an excellent battery of starting pitchers with Paxton on Fridays and Alex Meyer (R-R, RHP, So.) 4-2, 7.30ERA, 40.2IP, 37r(33e), 25W, 52SO (.280 oba) on Sundays. Exit Paxton... most recently, exit Meyer who came down with mononucleosis (4/14), unable to start for four weeks (projected to start mid-May). Maybe Meyer will be seen against the Gamecocks this weekend... could be anyone's guess. Mono will wear even the best athlete down and it takes time to build your strength up after battling it for a month.

Logan Darnell (L-L, LHP, Jr); 4-3, 5.61ERA, 67.1IP, 47r(42e), 27W, 49SO (.305 oba), has been starting Fridays on a consistent basis this year for the Wildcats since week #4 (against Alabama) of SEC play. He possesses a fastball that comes in around 90-94 mph, has struggled with his control of it. He has the capability to throw a solid curve and change-up, but those two pitches lack consistency needed for him to be a dominant pitcher. When he is capable of using all three interchangeably, he can be dominant. Not having Paxton or a healthy Meyer has been a hindrance to his development this year... Darnell was a weekend starter as a Freshman last year.

Saturday's starter has been Taylor Rogers (L-L, LHP, Fr.); 4-6, 5.63ERA, 70.1IP, 46r(44e), 11W, 33SO (.300 oba) should see action against us on Saturday... pending Meyers health and if Coach Henderson wants to see what his other weekend starter, Jordan Cooper, can do in a Saturday evening start. Taylor was named SEC Freshman of the Week at the start of regular season play in '10 for his pitching efforts at the Caravelle Resort Invitational (Myrtle Beach, SC); he threw 25 first pitch strikes to 29 hitters faced. He is not an overpowering pitcher, but he throws the first pitch for a strike; his fastball possesses plenty of movement. He also has a change-up that will help him get through a batting order for a second time. Paxton helped Rogers with some of his pitches during the Fall and Winter. Rogers pitches with control and throws a lot of strikes, typically working 6-7 innings.

Sunday's starter will feature Jordan Cooper (R-R, RHP, Fr.); 2-4, 5.70ERA, 42.2IP, 31r(27e), 22W, 25SO (.303 oba). Cooper and Taylor have rotated their Saturday/Sunday starts; Meyer was their Sunday starter until his illness. Point is, Coach Henderson would love to have these three for Saturday/Sunday duties; starting, long relief... whatever they could give him. Cooper was rated the top pitching prospect out of Tennessee last year; possesses excellent arm strength (at a young age). He has a low-mid 90's fastball that he is accurate with and has a quality second pitch. Cooper was the 81st Best Prospect in the Nation (Baseball America) and was drafted by the Pirates in the 17th round.

Kentucky possesses some good middle relief in Mike Kaczmarek (L-L, LHP, Jr.); 1-0,3.54ERA, 20.1IP, 9r(8e), 5W, 20SO (.216 oba), a lefty who throws a controlled fastball in the low 90s that possesses a lot of action from a 3/4 slot. Kaczmerek can use a change-up and curve to continue relief. His delivery is cross body and he explodes to the plate. His curve reflects his cross body delivery, as it possesses a nasty late break across the plate. He is especially effective against left-handed hitters.

Nick Kennedy (R-R, RHP, R.S.Jr.) (1SV) 3-1, 4.18ERA, 28IP,17r(13e), 12W, 35SO (.257 oba) is one of the "fabulous Freshmen"... actually a Transfer from East L.A.C.C. (California). Kennedy has performed well for the Wildcats in middle relief situations. Walter Wijas (R-R, RHP, Fr.); 0-0, 3.55ERA, 12.2IP 7r(5e), 4W, 8SO (.265 oba) is one of the "young gun" Freshmen on this Wildcat pitching staff that has been getting more and more action as SEC games and Wildcat needs have materialized. Rated the top '09 pitching prospect out of Illinois, Wijas has excellent movement on his fastball. He is often combined with Cooper and was a large part of their Sunday win against Florida (4/18). Wijas retired the first 10 Florida hitters he faced and was working on a perfect game against them for 3.1 innings.

Braden Kapteyn (R-R, RHP, So.) (1SV) 1-0, 3.29ERA, 13.2IP, 6r(5e), 10W, 13SO (.288 oba) will be used in early relief and as a closer; good for about 1-2 innings. Kapetyn has very good sink on his low-mid 90's fastball, and has improved his slider from last year. His slider is now projected from an average to better pitch for him. His future as a baseball player will be from the mound; has raw power as a hitter; used often by Kentucky as a pinch-hitter or DH. Mike Little (R-R, RHP, R.S.Jr.) (6SVs) 2-2, 3.71ERA, 34.1IP, 17r(14e), 14W, 42SO (.235 oba) is by far their most effective closer. Little, standing at 5'10" has a heater that comes in at @ mid 90s for a fastball. It is a much more consistent pitch for him if he takes a little velocity off of it, throwing more in the range of low 90s. He also throws a big sweeping slider which is very effective if he is landing it. Little has been money for the Wildcats as their closer with 6 saves this year.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories