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Kentucky set to open in Coca-Cola Classic

MOBILE, Ala. — Riding the momentum of the most wins in a two-year period in the 103-year history of the Kentucky baseball program, the 20th-ranked Wildcats open its season at the annual Coca-Cola Classic, hosted by South Alabama, facing off with Xavier on Friday. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network (radio), with Dick Gabriel (Lexington station WLAP 630-AM)

UK was scheduled to depart Lexington for Mobile on Thursday at 2 p.m. ET, but winter storms hit the eastern portion of the United States. Due to ice accumulation, the Wildcat players were unable to depart the Bluegrass Airport via charter plane. UK’s staff travel party, with the exception of the 29-player travel roster, has already arrived in Mobile, after leaving Lexington by vehicle. The UK team plans to depart Lexington tomorrow, with expected arrival in the early afternoon. In light of UK’s significantly altered travel plans, Kentucky will open its season with Xavier at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday – the time slot originally slotted for South Alabama’s season opener with Fairfield. USA and Fairfield will now play at 3 p.m. ET, the time originally scheduled for UK’s season opener. UK will take the field 30 minutes following the conclusion of the USA-Fairfield contest.

Kentucky, ranked as high as No. 20 in the preseason, enters the season with an unprecedented momentum after running off 78 wins in 2006 and 2008. Boosted by the return of three members of the Brooks Wallace National Player of the Year Watch List – Sawyer Carroll, Collin Cowgill, and Scott Green – the Wildcats return a veteran pitching staff and an lineup stacked with experienced hitters.

Getting the starting nod for UK on Friday will be junior southpaw Chris Rusin, facing off with Xavier’s Charlie Leesman. Rusin, UK’s Friday night starter a year ago, enters the season with an additional 15 pounds of muscle and the experience of facing four first-round picks in Southeastern Conference Friday night matchups. Rusin earned a 5-4 record, a 4.85 ERA in 86 1/3 innings in 2007, striking out 76. Leesman returns as the Musketeers ace a year ago, working in 81 innings, totaling a 4-3 record, a 4.22 ERA, striking out 47 and walking 31.

Saturday, UK runs Green to the mound, for his first collegiate start since 2005. A 6-foot-8, 245-pound right-hander, Green enters the season as the 21st best prospect in college baseball, as ranked by Baseball America. USA’s senior right-hander Kevin Nabors gets the call to face off with Green, after earning a 3-1 record, a 4.67 ERA, striking out 28 in 34 2/3 innings. Sunday, UK’s all-time career leading in winning percentage, Greg Dombrowski, takes the hill for his 30th consecutive Sunday start, squaring off with USA’s Lance Baxter (4-3, 4.84 ERA).

UK is 54-42-3 all-time in season openers. Kentucky has now won four consecutive season lid-lifters for the first time since 1989-1991. UK won five straight season openers from 1987-1991.

Kentucky owns an all-time 24-8 record vs. Xavier, including a 6-2 win in Lexington in 2007. UK will be seeking the first win over South Alabama in school annals on Saturday, having compiled a 0-7 record vs. the Jaguars.

Kentucky – 0-0, 0-0 SEC
Xavier – 0-0, 0-0 Atlantic-10
South Alabama – 0-0, 0-0- Sun Belt
Fairfield – 0-0, 0-0 MAAC

Kentucky – No. 20 (Collegiate Baseball), No. 25 (NCBWA), No. 30 (Baseball America), Receiving Votes (USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll)
Xavier – not ranked
South Alabama – not ranked
Fairfield – not ranked

Schedule (times Eastern and subject to change) – Mobile, Ala.
Friday, Feb. 22 vs. Xavier * 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 23 vs. South Alabama * Noon
Saturday, Feb. 23 vs. Fairfield * 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 24 vs. South Alabama * 3:30 p.m.

Radio (BBSN with Dick Gabriel)
Friday: WLAP 630-AM in Lexington
Saturday: WXRA 1580-AM in Lexington
Sunday: WXRA 1580-AM in Lexington

Tentative Pitching Matchups
Friday vs. Xavier
LHP Chris Rusin (Jr., 4-3, 4.85) vs. LHP Charlie Leesman (Jr., 4-3, 4.22)
Saturday vs. South Alabama
RHP Scott Green (Jr., 2-0, 3.06) vs. RHP Kevin Nabors (Sr., 3-1, 4.67)
Saturday vs. Fairfield
Sunday vs. South Alabama
RHP Greg Dombrowski (Sr., 5-2, 5.12) vs. LHP Lance Baxter (Jr., 4-3, 4.84)

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