The UK baseball team has benefited from some solid pitching this week — just one earned run in 18 innings — but it’s the Cats’ bats that are really humming with a nationally ranked opponent up next on the schedule.
Kentucky (4-5) will host UC-Santa Barbara (4-4) for a three-game series at Cliff Hagan Stadium starting Friday, an important early-season test against a team that advanced to the College World Series last year.
The Wildcats are coming off two routs of in-state opponents — a 12-0 shutout of Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday and a 17-2 drubbing of Western Kentucky on Wednesday — and several UK hitters have had a huge week at the plate.
“The last two days, our guys have played with a lot of confidence,” said UK Coach Nick Mingione. “That’s really good to see. One thing I really respect about our team is that they’ve been really professional about their business. I haven’t heard one player talk about UC-Santa Barbara yet, which goes a long way.”
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UCSB enters the weekend at No. 23 in the Baseball America rankings with a roster that includes two of that publication’s Top 100 college-aged draft prospects: shortstop Clay Fisher and regular Saturday starting pitcher Kyle Nelson.
The Gauchos will meet a confident UK lineup, led by preseason All-America first baseman Evan White, who played in the field Wednesday for the first time since the Cats’ season opener. White aggravated a hip injury in UK’s first game, missed the next five contests and returned as the Cats’ designated hitter for two games before getting back to first base against Western Kentucky.
He is 6-for-8 this week with a double, two homers and three RBI. He’s 10-for-14 on the season and goes into Friday’s game with a 20-game hitting streak, one short of his career high.
Junior second baseman Riley Mahan has four RBI in each of UK’s two games this week and leads the team with 14 RBI.
Senior center fielder Marcus Carson was a single short of the cycle in Wednesday’s game and is off to a great start after hitting just .167 over 32 games last season. Carson is hitting .457 with a .743 slugging percentage, starting all nine games this spring.
“He’s just kind of embraced everything,” Mingione said Wednesday. “He’s been open ears, and he’s been a pleasure to coach. And like you saw tonight, he’s not just a singles guy.”
UK dropped its first four games of the season — by a total of five runs — and has won four of five since then.
“I’ve really been impressed with the way we’ve handled our season to this point,” Mingione said. “Every game, you look back, we keep competing. That’s something that we’ve told them. And now we’re actually teaching them how to win, and we’re starting to put some of that into play.”
UC-Santa Barbara at Kentucky
4 p.m. Friday (SEC Network Plus; WBUL-FM 98.5)