UK Baseball

UK baseball looking for first SEC win as it hosts weekend series with No. 6 Auburn

‘Do you play basketball?’ Life as a nearly 7-foot UK pitcher

At a towering 6'11", Kentucky's Friday night starter Sean Hjelle was named 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year. Here he discusses how the length helps him and confuses passers-by.
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At a towering 6'11", Kentucky's Friday night starter Sean Hjelle was named 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year. Here he discusses how the length helps him and confuses passers-by.

The University of Kentucky baseball team (15-6) returns home to Cliff Hagan Stadium this weekend for an important three-game series against highly ranked Auburn (19-3). UK was swept by Arkansas in Fayetteville last weekend in its first Southeastern Conference series of the season, but bounced back with a 20-4 shelling of host Xavier on Tuesday.

The schedule

Friday: 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network Plus; WLAP-AM 630)

Saturday: Noon (SEC Network)

Sunday: 1 p.m. (SEC Network Plus; WLAP-AM 630)

At the plate

Junior-college transfer Ben Aklinski has proven to be an indispensable addition to the Wildcats’ roster this season. The junior outfielder has settled into the cleanup spot and hit his third home run of the year while going 3-for-5 with five RBI in UK’s win over Xavier on Tuesday. Aklinski is batting .354 with 23 RBI. He has nine multi-hit games.

Senior Luke Heyer stayed scorching-hot at the plate against the Musketeers, belting two home runs and driving in five. Heyer has already set a career high with 10 homers this season, good for the team lead. Kole Cottam also homered twice in the Xavier win. Cottam and T.J. Collett are right behind Heyer with nine home runs each on the year.

The opponent

Auburn comes into the series having dropped back-to-back games — a 5-1 decision against Texas A&M and a 6-4 midweek matchup with Georgia Tech. The Tigers won the first two games to clinch last weekend’s series with Texas A&M before dropping the finale.

Auburn boasts one of the best pitchers in the country in Casey Mize, who will probably draw the start in the series opener against UK. On Monday, the junior right-hander was named SEC Pitcher of the Week for the second consecutive week after allowing one run and five hits in 7 1/3 innings in the Tigers’ series-opening victory over the Aggies. In his previous start, Mize tossed the program’s first no-hitter since 2002.

Auburn has reached the College World Series four times with the last appearance coming in 1997 when the Tigers finished sixth.

The rankings

Auburn is ranked No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 6 by Baseball America. Kentucky is rated No. 11 and No. 8, respectively, in the same polls.

Probable pitchers

Friday: RHP Sean Hjelle (4-1, 2.40 ERA) vs. RHP Casey Mize (5-0, 1.93 ERA)

Saturday: LHP Zack Thompson (2-0, 6.11 ERA) vs. RHP Davis Daniel (2-0, 4.35 ERA)

Sunday: RHP Justin Lewis (3-2, 6.91 ERA) vs. RHP Tanner Burns (2-2, 2.05 ERA)

Tickets

Advance tickets are available through Ticketmaster.com. Game-day sales are available two hours before first pitch at the Cliff Hagan Stadium box office.

Josh Sullivan: 859-231-3225, @sullyjosh

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