Expectations are soaring as Kentucky opens the 2013 baseball season with its highest preseason ranking in program history.
"You talk SEC Championship, you talk going to Omaha," UK head coach Gary Henderson said of his team's goal to reach the College World Series this year. "I think you touch on all of that stuff. I am just a big believer on needing to take care of today, today. And take care of tomorrow, tomorrow. I think if you spend all your time talking about what is going to happen in June, it is easy to forget what you need to be doing in February."
That business gets under way Friday as the No. 8 Wildcats travel to Spartanburg, S.C., for a three-game weekend on the campuses of Wofford College and USC Upstate. Game 1 is Friday at noon ET against UNC Asheville. Game 2 is on Saturday against USC Upstate at 4 p.m. The trip concludes with Game 3 on Sunday at noon against Niagra.
Kentucky, which returns six of eight position starters from its 45-win team from 2012, will use an all-lefty weekend rotation of sophomore A.J. Reed (5-2, 2.52 ERA) on Friday, junior Corey Littrell (9-2, 2.74) on Saturday and senior Jerad Grundy (6-3, 3.78) on Sunday.
The Wildcat offense will be led by sophomore centerfielder Austin Cousino (.319, 9 HR, 41 RBI), senior outfidler Zac Zellers (.311, 5 HR, 19 RBI) and Reed (.300, 4 HR, 43 RBI).
Cousino, Reed and Littrell are all preseason All-America honorees, stoking expectations for a banner season.
"We had such a successful season, it’s hard to not think about last year," Littrell said. "But like we’ve said, like our coaches told us, this is a new year. This is a new team. We’ve got new people, and we still have one goal. We want to be better than we were last year."
The Cats expect a solid test as they travel to the Palmetto State.
Big South program UNC Asheville is coming off a 25-30 season, but the Bulldogs return four position starters and nine pitchers among 17 letter-winners. They're led by senior right-handed pitcher Dean Roland (5-6, 3.92) and infielder Billy Creighton, who hit .306 with six home runs and 32 RBI in 2012.
USC Upstate is coming off a strong debut season in the A-Sun, going 33-20 overall. The Spartans return six position starters, 10 pitchers and 19 letter-winners. Senior two-way star Gaither Bumgardner, a 6-foot-6 outfielder, returns after leading the club with a .376 average, 12 doubles, three triples and 32 RBI. 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.
Niagara is coming off a 19-29 season. The Purple Eagles return four position starters, nine pitchers and a total of 19 letter-winners. Senior infielder Ryan McCauley, a 6-foot-5 left-handed power hitter, returns after batting .362 in 2012 with 20 doubles, one triple, 12 homers and 51 RBI.
All three games will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network with Dick Gabriel calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the games live on WWTF 1580-AM and online at UKathletics.com.
Kentucky – 45-18, 18-13 SEC
UNC Asheville – 25-30, 12-12 Big South
USC Upstate – 33-20, 16-10 A-Sun
Niagara – 19-29, 7-16 MAAC
Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change)
vs. UNC Asheville * Friday, February 15 * 12:00 p.m. (at Wofford)
at USC Upstate * Saturday, February 16 * 4:00 p.m.
vs. Niagara * Sunday, February 17 * 12 p.m. (at Wofford)
Tentative Pitching Matchups
Friday vs. UNC Asheville
So., LHP A.J. Reed vs. Jr., RHP Dean Roland
Saturday at USC Upstate
Jr., LHP Corey Littrell vs. Jr., LHP David Rosenboom
Sunday vs. Niagara
Sr., LHP Jerad Grundy vs. TBD