The University of Kentucky baseball team has won three of its last four games entering postseason play.
What do the Wildcats need to do now? Keep on winning.
Kentucky takes on Alabama on Tuesday in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Hoover, Ala., in a game each team might need to win to extend its postseason journey.
The Wildcats are 32-24 overall and finished the SEC regular season 15-15, good for the No. 8 seed in the league tournament. Alabama, the No. 9 seed, is 31-24 and 15-15. Kentucky is ranked No. 55 in the latest RPI. Alabama is No. 62. Both schools are on the bubble for the 64-team NCAA Tournament and seeking a boost this week.
Never miss a local story.
Kentucky Coach Gary Henderson set the bar for UK’s postseason hopes earlier this month when he said, “You finish over .500 in our league, and you get to go to the postseason.” Seven SEC teams — South Carolina, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss currently meet that standard. Last season, seven SEC teams were selected for the NCAA tourney.
UK is expected to send sophomore left-hander Zach Logue (3-1, 2.62 ERA) to the mound for Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. EDT start against Alabama junior righty Nick Eicholtz (3-3, 2.25 ERA).
Kentucky took two of three games from the Crimson Tide when they met April 8-10 at UK’s Cliff Hagan Stadium. Kentucky won the Friday and Saturday games 3-2 and 6-2 before losing the finale on Sunday 2-1. Eicholtz pitched a career-long 7 2/3 innings in the Crimson Tide victory, allowing one run on three hits and striking out three.
Tuesday’s four opening-round games in the 12-team SEC Tournament are single-elimination contests. Tuesday’s four winners will join the top four seeds for double-elimination play Wednesday through Friday. Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s finals are single elimination. The UK-Alabama winner will play regular-season champion and No. 1 seed Mississippi State on Wednesday.
The Cats, coming off back-to-back wins over Missouri over the weekend, are led offensively by sophomore first baseman Evan White, who is batting .377 with four home runs, 39 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Junior left fielder Zach Reks is hitting .340 with seven homers and 22 RBI. Sophomore shortstop Riley Mahan checks in at .311 with five homers and 31 RBI. Junior third baseman JaVon Shelby has 12 homers and 35 RBI.
Seniors Dustin Beggs (9-2, 3.01 ERA) and Kyle Cody (6-2, 3.35 ERA) have led the pitching staff. A pair of freshmen, Sean Hjelle (4-1, eight saves) and Justin Lewis (2-0, four saves), along with senior Zach Strecker (3-2) have paced the bullpen.
While Kentucky is coming in hot, Alabama closed the regular season by getting swept by South Carolina.
Three Cats earn SEC honors
Three Kentucky players received All-SEC honors Monday.
First baseman Evan White was named second-team all-conference. Pitcher Sean Hjelle made the all-freshman team. White and pitcher Dustin Beggs were voted to the all-defensive team.
Mississippi State’s John Cohen, formerly head coach at Kentucky, was named SEC Coach of the Year. Texas A&M third baseman Boomer White was chosen Player of the Year. Florida’s Logan Shore was voted Pitcher of the Year, Mississippi State outfielder Jake Mangum was Freshman of the Year, and Tennessee outfielder/infielder Derek Lance was the Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Kentucky vs. Alabama
What: SEC Tournament, first round
Where: Hoover, Ala.
When: 5:30 p.m. EDT
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: No. 8 seed UK 32-24 (15-15 SEC), No. 9 seed Alabama 31-24 (15-15)