Cats head to Bama for first SEC series

Gary Henderson's Kentucky baseball squad opens SEC play this weekend at Alabama with a No. 20 national ranking and a collection of hot bats that will be tested by some outstanding pitching.

Gary Henderson's Kentucky baseball squad opens SEC play this weekend at Alabama with a No. 20 national ranking and a collection of hot bats that will be tested by some outstanding pitching.

The Wildcats (13-4) lead the league in 11 offensive categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored, home runs and stolen bases. Junior center fielder Austin Cousino (.432, 9 2B, 2 3B, 7 SB), junior first baseman/pitcher A.J. Reed (.414, 8 HR, 28 RBI) and senior catcher Micheal Thomas (.400, 2 HR, 20 RBI) lead the UK attack into Tuscaloosa.

Reed will also take the mound for the Cats in the opening game Friday night at 7:35 p.m. ET. The left-hander brings a 3-0 record and a 1.38 ERA into the matchup with the Crimson Tide (10-5), who will send Spencer Turnbull (1-1, 0.42 ERA) to the hill.

Turnbull is one of the top pitching prospects in college baseball. The junior right-hander has allowed only nine hits and has struck out 23 batters over 21.2 innings of work this season. Opponents have managed a paltry .129 batting average against him.

On Saturday at 7:05, UK will start junior right-hander Chandler Shepherd (3-0, 2.42) against Bama junior left-hander Justin Kamplain (2-1, 2.45). The Cats have yet to announce their starter for the series finale Sunday at 1:05. The Tide will send junior lefty Jon Keller (4-0, 0.83) to the mound.

Kamplain is coming off seven no-hit innings in a win over Mississippi Valley State. He struck out 12 and walked just two in seven innings. Keller allowed just one hit to MVSU over six innings in his last outing.

While the Tide has dominated with pitching early in the season, their offense has managed only 61 runs to date. First baseman Austen Smith (.362, 3 2B, 11 RBI) is a key figure in the lineup for Bama. Centerfielder Georgie Salem (.318, 3 2B, 3 SB) is also a player to watch.

Alabama leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 57-36, including a 28-14 mark in Tuscaloosa. UK has won three consecutive games against the Tide, a series sweep in 2012. The teams did not face each other last season.

The three games will be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action. Fans in Lexington can hear the games live on WWTF 1580-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com.