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UK Baseball Releases Challenging 2009 Schedule

LEXINGTON, Ky. — With a school-record 122 wins, a Southeastern Conference Championship and two NCAA Regional Championship appearances over the past three years, the Kentucky baseball team has released its 2009 schedule, it was announced by head coach Gary Henderson Monday morning.

“We are extremely pleased with our 2009 schedule,” Henderson announced. “One of our goals in putting together the schedule was to increase our overall RPI and present a more challenging non-conference slate, including a tough opening-season tournament at Coastal Carolina. Playing in the best conference in college baseball, we will always play 10 of the top teams in the nation, and it was important for us to be challenged outside of conference action as well.”

The 2009 slate features 27 games against NCAA Tournament teams a year ago, two 2008 College World Series teams, 11 teams that made the NCAA Tournament in 2008, 17 clubs that finished with a top-100 RPI and a combined opponent record of 909-692 (.568).

The schedule will present the Wildcats with its most daunting challenge in the past six years and is an improvement from the 2008 schedule that featured five NCAA Tournament teams in 2007, 14 clubs that finished with a top-100 RPI in 2007, and a combined opponent record of 734-651-1 (.530).

In 2008, Kentucky, behind first-team All-American outfielders Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill, totaled a 44-19 record and a 16-14 SEC finish, good for fourth in the best conference in college baseball. UK advanced to the championship game of the Ann Arbor Regional, without two of its three weekend starters, suffering a defeat to No. 12 Arizona, a team laden with first-round pitching talent.

“While we lose two first team All-Americans in Sawyer (Carroll) and Collin (Cowgill), we are very excited about the returning mix of players and the fourth-best incoming class in college baseball,” Henderson said. “We brought in a class of impact players that rivals any program in the nation and combined with such returnees as first-team All-SEC pitcher Chris Rusin, third baseman Chris McClendon, freshman All-America shortstop Chris Wade and veteran centerfielder Keenan Wiley, we feel like we will have a solid team in 2009.”

UK lost a few players from its 2008 squad and return several of the better players in the conference, including first-team All-SEC pitcher Chris Rusin (6-3, 3.33 ERA), one of the top lefties in the nation. Rusin, who opted to return to Kentucky instead of signing with the Oakland Athletics, was one of a league-high four UK players named to the All-SEC first-team in 2008 and one of only two starting pitchers in the league on the first-team, joining Patrick Keating (Florida) and the best closer the nation, reliever Joshua Field (Georgia).

“Chris Rusin is one of the top seniors in college baseball and he has proven himself for three years in the SEC,” Henderson said. “Having arguably the top starter in the SEC back in the rotation is big and we will rely on Chris throughout the season, not just on the mound but as a leader of the staff as well.”

During 2008, Rusin was dominant, posting a 3.33 ERA and a 6-3 record in 13 starts. A native of Canton, Mich., Rusin hurled quality starts in 9-of-13 assignments, going seven or more innings seven times in 2008. Rusin worked 83.2 innings, striking out 65 and throwing two complete games.

After helping UK clinch an SEC Tournament berth in his final regular season start vs. Ole Miss, Rusin experienced a minor injury that resulted in him not pitching in the SEC Tournament. After a week of rest, Rusin pitched in the opening game of the Ann Arbor NCAA Regional, but was not 100-percent and was pulled after 1.1 innings. Throw out the game vs. Michigan, which was the worst statistical outing of his career, and Rusin had a 2.84 ERA in 82.1 innings.

Two of Rusin’s three losses on the season came when the lefty hurled two complete-game performances on the road in the SEC (at Auburn, at Vanderbilt) – two eight-inning complete games that saw Rusin strike out 18 and allow only five runs. On the road in 2008, Rusin totaled a 2.63 ERA in 37 innings, striking out 33 in five starts.

In addition to the return of Rusin, UK welcomes back arguably the top returning third baseman in the SEC, Chris McClendon (.346 avg., 3 HR, 33 RBI). McClendon, who battled injuries throughout the season, played in 48-of-63 UK games, earning All-SEC Tournament honors.

“Sparky (McClendon) is coming off a season where he showed his toughness time and time again,” Henderson said. “His toughness throughout the season was inspiring and to finish the season with an average above .340 and to battle defensively the way he did shows his character and will to win. We are looking forward to getting Sparky 100-percent for the spring, because he is one of the top third basemen in the SEC.”

McClendon is not the only all-conference caliber player returning to the UK lineup, as freshman All-American shortstop Chris Wade (.296 avg., 24 2Bs, 5 HR, 51 RBI) and centerfielder Keenan Wiley (.327 avg., 2 HR, 38 RBI) will bolster the Wildcat lineup. UK also returns one of the top defensive catchers in the SEC in Marcus Nidiffer (.216 avg., 5 HR, 17 RBI), infielder Spencer Korus (.310 avg., 7 RBI) and outfielders Troy Frazier (.256 avg., 3 HR, 26 RBI) and Bryan Rose (.290 avg., 4 HR, 21 RBI). Newcomers Andy Burns (IF), Michael Williams (C), Gunner Glad (IF/OF), Braden Kapteyn (IF) Will Campbell (IF) and Cory Farris (OF) are all expected to have an immediate impact in the Wildcat lineup.

On the mound, weekend starter James Paxton (4-2. 2.92 ERA) joins Rusin in the rotation, with several talented arms vying for a role in the pitching staff. Among the pitchers expected to have a major impact include Mike Kaczmarek (1-0, 2.13 ERA), Logan Darnell (4.08 ERA), Clint Tilford (3-0, 4.61 ERA) and Tyler Henry (2-0, 6.20 ERA). New pitchers that will step in and fill a spot in the staff include Glad (RH), Kapteyn (RH), Nick Kennedy (RH), Alex Meyer (RH), Sean Bouthilette (RH) and Chase Greene (RH).

Kentucky will open up its season on Feb. 20 in a tournament hosted by 2008 NCAA Regional host Coastal Carolina (50-14 in 2008, 8 RPI). The field will include traditional powers Coastal, Troy (32-26, 74 RPI) and James Madison (39-19, 61 RPI).

After returning from Myrtle Beach, S.C., UK will host Western Michigan (29-23, 195 RPI) in a four game home-opening set at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Feb. 27-29. UK will then face Wright State (30-23, 180 RPI), Eastern Kentucky (26-27, 212 RPI), Indiana State (18-32, 146 RPI) and Big Ten opponent Indiana (31-30, 129 RPI). The matchup with EKU will mark UK’s first meeting with Eastern since 2005, a series that dates back to 1928.

For its spring break trip, UK will travel to the new and improved LSU baseball stadium for the first SEC games ever played at the sparkling new facility. LSU (49-19, 8 RPI) is coming off a historic season that saw the Tigers run up a staggering winning streak that cumulated in a CWS appearance. After facing LSU, UK will stay in the Bayou, to face Nicholls State (10-44, 269 RPI) and NCAA Tournament team New Orleans (43-21, 47 RPI).

UK will return to Cliff Hagan for a three-game series with Vanderbilt (41-22, 35 RPI), one of the top programs in college baseball. Vanderbilt, despite losing a top-two overall draft pick for the second consecutive year, welcomes one of the top recruiting class in the nation in addition to left-handed ace Mike Minor (7-3, 4.28 ERA,103 IP, 101 SO), the Baseball America Summer Player of the Year.

After facing Vandy, UK steps out of conference play for a mid-week battle at West Virginia (35-27, 103 RPI) and a home test vs. Cincinnati (39-20, 85 RPI). After those two difficult non-conference battles, South Carolina (40-23, 23 RPI) comes to Lexington for the first time since 2006. Despite losing first-round infielders James Darnell (.306, 19 HR, 81 RBI), Reese Havens (.359, 18 HR, 57 RBI) and Justin Smoak (.383, 23 HR, 72 RBI) to the MLB Draft, South Carolina returns a talented roster including outfielder Whit Merrifield (.326, 3 HR, 26 RBI, 23 sac bunts, 11-11 SB).

After a mid-week test with Marshall (30-30, 72 RPI), UK travels to Oxford, Miss., to square off with Ole Miss (39-26, 39 RPI) a club it has posted wins against in four of the last seven meetings, including a series win at Swayze Field in 2007. The Rebels return the best closer in the nation, Scott Bittle (7-1, 1.78 ERA, 8 saves),and arguably the best defensive catcher in the SEC, Brett Basham (.261, 2 HR, 29 RBI).

UK will travel to Bowling Green, Ky., for a Tuesday tilt with Western Kentucky (32-27, 84 RPI), a program emerging as the power of the Sun Belt Conference.

After facing Cincinnati a day after traveling to WKU, UK will welcome the CWS runner-up, Georgia (45-25, 11 RPI) to Lexington. Georgia, despite losing first-rounders Gordon Beckham (.411, 28 HR, 77 RBI) and Joshua Fields (3-2, 3.38 ERA, 18 saves, 37.1 IP, 63 SO), return first baseman Rich Poythress (.374, 15 HR, 75 RBI) and a slew of young talent that boosted the Bulldogs to the CWS Finals.

Before traveling to Mississippi State (23-33, 127 RPI) for a matchup with former UK head coach John Cohen, Kentucky will face Louisville (41-21, 55 RPI), a power in the Big East conference. Last year, both teams walked off with dramatic wins in the two-game series. Both programs set school attendance marks in its home UK-UL game, with a total of 7,661 fans checking out the rivalry contest in 2008.

After the trip to Starkville, Miss., UK will face Big Ten power Ohio State (30-26, 137 RPI) and traditionally competitive Evansville (14-42, 278 RPI) before a trip to “The Joe” to face Alabama (35-28, 48 RPI), a squad it won 4-of-5 games against in 2008. Alabama had a young, talented roster in 2008 and will return one of the top middle infield duos in college baseball, shortstop Josh Rutledge (.369, 31 RBI, 16-19 SB) and second baseman Ross Wilson (.295, 15 HR, 47 RBI).

UK returns to Cliff Hagan for its home game with Louisville, kicking off an eight-game homestand that features Tennessee (27-29, 96 RPI), Auburn (28-28, 69 RPI) and Morehead State (18-33, 261 RPI). UT returns preseason All-American outfielder Kentrail Davis (.330, 13 HR, 44 RBI) and left-handed ace Bryan Morgado (5-5, 4.59 ERA, 80.1 IP, 104 SO) for coach Todd Raleigh’s second season at the helm in Knoxville. Auburn, under the direction of new head coach John Pawlowski, will be led by slugging first baseman Hunter Morris (.351, 11 HR, 49 RBI).

The Wildcats will wrap up its regular season with a final SEC series at Florida (34-24, 21 RPI), the third-best team in the SEC in 2008 under then-first year coach Kevin O’Sullivan. The Gators were dealt a blow at the end of the signing period as second-year shortstop Cole Figueroa (.350, 9 HR, 57 RBI) opted to sign professionally but got good news as infielder Brandon McArthur (.337, 2 HR, 44 RBI) was granted an additional year of eligibility. With a year of seasoning under O’Sullivan, Keating (8-1, 4.16 ERA) and Tommy Toledo (4-4, 4.40 ERA) will lead the pitching staff.

2009 Schedule

  • Should be an interesting year for the Wildcats under the new coaching staff.

    I wrote a pretty good article previewing the 2009 Wildcats which is available at the link below.

  • Colin Weber

    The SEC schedule is always tough, but that’s a pretty weak OOC schedule. I like the opening weekend tourney at Coastal, playing 3 top 75 RPI teams, but after that the non-conference schedule drops off. A four game series against Western Michigan (RPI 195), Wright State (RPI 180), Eastern Kentucky (RPI 212), Indiana State (RPI 146), Indiana (RPI 129), Ohio State (RPI 137), Evansville (RPI 278), West Virginia (RPI 103), Morehead State (RPI 261) and Nicholls State (RPI 249) is very, very weak.

    Games against New Orleans (RPI 47), Cincinnati twice (RPI 85), Marshall (RPI 72), Western Kentucky (RPI 87), and Lousiville twice (RPI 55), but Coastal Carolina is really the only OOC headliner on the schedule. A strong non-conference weekend series would have helped the RPI a lot and helped prepare for the always challenging SEC schedule.

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