Sporting the highest preseason ranking in program history, No. 8 Kentucky will open its 2013 campaign for the fifth consecutive season in the Palmetto State, traveling to Spartanburg, S.C., for a three-game weekend on the campuses of Wofford and USC Upstate.
Kentucky will open the year with UNC Asheville on Friday at 12 p.m. ET at Wofford. On Saturday, UK will face USC Upstate across town at Harley Park, with first pitch slated for 4 p.m. ET. The weekend will conclude on Sunday, as UK takes on Niagara at 12 p.m. ET at Wofford.
All three games will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with Dick Gabriel voicing the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the games live on WWTF 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky will open its 2013 with the weekend rotation of sophomore lefty A.J. Reed (5-3, 2.52 ERA in 2012) on Friday vs. UNCA at Wofford, junior lefty Corey Littrell (9-2, 2.74 ERA in 2012) on Saturday at USC Upstate, senior lefty Jerad Grundy (6-3, 3.78 ERA in 2012) on Sunday vs. Niagara at Wofford.
A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Reed is also a preseason All-America honoree after a consensus first-team freshman All-America season playing both ways in 2012. Reed appeared in 16 games with five starts as a freshman, owning a 5-3 record and a 2.52 ERA, in 53.2 innings, allowing 54 hits and just nine walks, striking out 51. A 6-foot-4, 245-pounder, Reed’s final pitching outing came with nine innings of relief in the 21-inning NCAA Tournament opener vs. No. 25 Kent State. UNC Asheville will counter with junior right-hander Dean Roland. A durable righty, Roland made 15 starts and appeared in 16 games in 2012, posting a 5-6 record and a 3.92 ERA in 96.1 innings, allowing 93 hits and 29 walks, striking out 61.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Littrell enters the year sporting a pair of preseason All-America accolades, a second-team nod by Louisville Slugger and a third-team accolade by the NCBWA. Littrell, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound product of Trinity High School, went 9-2, with a 2.74 ERA in 2012, ranking among the single-season UK record holders in wins and ERA. He worked 10 quality starts in his 16 outings in 2012, hurling 98.2 innings, with 25 walks and 87 strikeouts. In his start last year vs. USC Upstate, Littrell worked seven shutout, two-hit innings, walking one and striking out a then career-high eight, retiring 12 consecutive hitters in the middle innings. USC Upstate will counter with its ace, junior southpaw David Roseboom. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound native of Pattersonville, N.Y., had a great season as an all-conference starter for the Spartans in 2012, posting a 7-3 record to rank sixth in the Atlantic Sun in wins, adding a 3.40 ERA in 82 innings.
Grundy, a native of Johnsburg, Ill., will make his 17th career start for the Wildcats after functioning as the Saturday starter in 2012. A 26th round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Grundy elected to return for his senior year after going 6-3 with a 3.78 ERA as a junior. A 6-foot-1, 200-pounder, Grundy worked 85.2 innings and allowed 79 hits and 36 walks, striking out 63. A year ago UK went 12-4 in Grundy’s starts, with the southpaw posting a 2.88 ERA over his final seven starts in 40.2 innings. Niagara has not announced a starting pitcher for the game with UK, which will be its fourth of the weekend.
UNC Asheville is coming off a 25-30 season, including a fourth-place finish in the Big South, posting a 12-12 mark. The Bulldogs are coached by Tom Smith, who is in his fourth year at the helm. UNC Asheville returns four position player starters, nine pitchers returning and a total of 17 letterwinners returning. On the mound, senior 6-foot-4 righty Dean Roland went 5-6 with a 3.92 ERA in 96.1 innings, striking out 61. Junior 6-foot-5 right-hander Brian Connolly picked up two saves in 2012 with a 5-5 record and a 4.62 ERA. Six-foot-6 senior infielder Billy Creighton returns after hitting .306 with six homers and 32 RBI. First baseman Hunter Bryant, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, hit .303 with 10 doubles and 19 RBI. Senior catcher Ian Graham posted a .279 average with nine doubles and 22 RBI.
Niagara is coming off a 19-29 season, including a 7-16 mark in league action. The Purple Eaglesreturn four position starters, nine pitchers and a total of 19 letterwinners. Senior infielder Ryan McCauley, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound left-handed hitter returns after batting .362 in 2012 with 20 doubles, one triple, 12 homers and 51 RBI. Junior Joe Klock hit .297 in 47 games with 11 doubles, one homer and 25 RBI. Junior middle infielder Thomas Rodrigues hit .266 in 2012 with two homers and 20 RBI. Junior right-hander Drew Fittry made 14 starts in 2012, posting a 4-3 record with a 5.58 ERA, striking out 42 and walking 34 in 69.1 innings. Senior southpaw Jim Fort went 3-3 with a 6.88 ERA in 10 games and nine starts as a junior, striking out 37 in 51 innings. Sophomore right-hander Jordan Schwartz led the team with four saves in 17 outings, posting a 1-5 record and an 8.26 ERA, striking out 29 in 44.2 innings.
USC Upstate is coming off a strong debut season in the A-Sun, going 33-20 overall and posting a 16-10 record for a second-place finish in league. The Spartans return six position starters, 10 pitchers and 19 letterwinners. Senior two-way star Gaither Bumgardner – a 6-foot-6 outfielder – returns after leading the club with a .376 average, adding 12 doubles, three triples and 32 RBI, stealing five bases. Junior catcher Luke Weber hit .302 in 2012 with nine doubles, one triple, two homers and 38 RBI. Tyler Miller, a senior outfielder, hit .279 with two homers and 17 RBI in 2012. On the mound, David Roseboom – a junior southpaw – went 7-3 with a 3.40 ERA in 16 games in 2012. Senior righty Ben Augenstein – brother of former Florida ace Bryan Augenstein – went 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 20 games in 2012, striking out 43 in 56.2 innings. Brandon Lee, a senior righty, posted a 7-4 record with a 3.83 ERA as a junior in 15 games and 11 starts, striking out 59 in 82.1 innings. .
UK returns six of eight position starters from its 45-win team in 2012 and two of three weekend starters. Leading hitter Austin Cousino (.319, 9 HR, 41 RBI in 2012) and senior Zac Zellers (.311, 5 HR, 19 RBI) will help lead the outfield, along with junior Lucas Witt (.319, 9 RBI). Junior shortstop Matt Reida (.239, 2 HR, 22 RBI) and junior second baseman J.T. Riddle (.279, 5 HR, 38 RBI) anchor the up-the-middle defense, with sophomore preseason All-American Reed (.300, 4 HR, 43 RBI) a returning starter at first base. Junior Paul McConkey (.323, 2 RBI), sophomore Max Kuhn (.333, 3 RBI), sophomore Jeff Boehm (.357, RBI), Thomas Bernal (.370, 4 RBI) and junior Micheal Thomas (.250, HR, 4 RBI) give UK more experienced position players.
UK will be meeting UNC Asheville for the first time in program history. In the first ever meeting with USC Upstate last year in Spartanburg, the Wildcats rode a shutout start from Corey Littrell to a 6-0 win. UK leads the series with Niagara, 3-0, sweeping the series in March of 2011. UK won the opener, 9-2, clinched the series on Saturday, 4-0, and swept the series with a 2-1 win on Sunday. Littrell, Tim Peterson, Sam Mahar and Trevor Gott each combined in the shutout, with Cousino and Riddle each adding three-hit games to lead UK at the dish.
Kentucky is ranked as high as No. 8 in the preseason by Collegiate Baseball, checking in No. 11 by Baseball America, No. 13 by Perfect Game and No. 15 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll. In each poll, UK’s preseason ranking marked its best preseason mark in UK history. The last time UK was ranked in the preseason was in 2009, at No. 19, and in 2008, at No. 20, by Collegiate Baseball. Preseason polls have been acquired back to 1999.
UK enters the 2013 season, boasting three preseason All-America honorees, including Littrell, Reed and Cousino. Cousino has earned second-team honors from Baseball America and Louisville Slugger and third-team accolades by the NCBWA. Littrell was a second-team selected by Louisville Slugger and a third-team honoree by the NCBWA, with Reed also a third-team NCBWA preseason All-American. In the November, Baseball America, top-100 college draft eligible prospects, Littrell was ranked No. 39 and Reida was tabbed No. 97. In the preseason top-50 prospects in each college class, Littrell was rated as the No. 36 junior, Cousino the No. 6 sophomore, Reed the No. 16 sophomore, Grundy the No. 9 senior and freshman 6-foot-7 righty Kyle Cody the No. 39 freshman. In Baseball America’s SEC preview, Cousino was tabbed as the preseason SEC Player of the Year – in surveys conducted of the league coaches – and best defensive outfielder. Cousino was rated as the second-best SEC prospect available for the 2014 MLB Draft and Reed as the third-best sophomore. Littrell was also tabbed as the 10th-best SEC prospect available for the 2013 MLB Draft.