FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Kentucky baseball program will take on 11 NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago and will host 32 games at Cliff Hagan Stadium, as part of its 2011 schedule, released Tuesday by third-year UK head coach Gary Henderson.
“We are really excited about our schedule this season, it is one of the toughest in the country,” Henderson said. “One of the goals in making our schedule is to play a challenging non-conference group that will get us ready for, and keep us sharp during, SEC play. Our schedule has some great opponents and our fans will get to see some of the best baseball in the nation at Cliff Hagan Stadium.”
Since taking over as head coach before the 2009 season, Henderson has made it a focal point to strengthen UK’s schedule, testing the team with talented non-conference opposition in addition to the grind of playing 10 weekends in the Southeastern Conference, the top league in college baseball. UK will host 32 games at Cliff Hagan Stadium and play a total of 24 games away from Lexington.
Last year, UK played the seventh-toughest schedule in the RPI at the end of the regular season, finishing the year with 16 wins over top 50 RPI teams, ranking eighth best in college baseball. The Wildcats totaled 12 wins over teams in the top 25 RPI last season, good for fourth best in the NCAA at the end of the regular season.
UK will open the season with a pair of exciting preseason tournaments, including the season-opening weekend at traditional power College of Charleston. The Wildcats will open the season Feb. 18, facing College of Charleston (44-19, No. 21 RPI) at 5 p.m. ET at The Ballpark at Patriots Point. UK will then face Marshall at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday, Feb. 19, before wrapping up the weekend by facing Miami (Ohio) on Feb. 20 at 11 a.m. ET at The Ballpark at Patriots Point.
“We have had the opportunity to travel to South Carolina four of the last five seasons and it gives our team a great chance to get out and compete against some good teams away from home to open the year,” Henderson said. “College of Charleston is a postseason tournament team and it will be a great early test for our team.”
UK will continue its four-game road swing, facing Morehead State in Morehead at 2 p.m. ET on Feb. 22. The Wildcats will then open its 32-game home schedule by welcoming Eastern Michigan on Feb. 23 for the home opener, before hosting Illinois-Chicago for a three-game weekend series at Cliff Hagan Stadium, Feb. 25-27.
After the four games at Cliff Hagan Stadium to end February, the Wildcats have been invited to the prestigious Houston College Classic, hosted by the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. The annual event, considered the top early season invitational tournament in college baseball, will take place from March 4-6. UK will open up with Rice (40-23, No. 30 RPI) on Friday, March 4 at 8 p.m. ET, before facing Houston on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET and Utah on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET.
“We are very excited to be playing in the Houston College Classic,” Henderson said. “The tournament is a great opportunity for us to play outstanding teams as well as play in a major league ballpark. It will be a valuable experience for our kids and we are very happy to be a part of the tournament.”
After the tournament, UK will return home for a 10-game homestand, hosting Eastern Kentucky, Niagara and Murray State, before opening up its SEC schedule with Tennessee from March 18-20 at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
“Playing in the SEC is a grind, it is a highly talented team for 10 consecutive weekends,” Henderson said. “Once again the league is going to be extremely competitive and is coming off winning back-to-back national championships. We will have some challenging tests at Cliff Hagan Stadium and will get to compete on the road at some of the best atmospheres in college baseball.”
UK will host SEC series with Auburn (43-21, No. 19 RPI), Arkansas (43-21, No. 14 RPI), Vanderbilt (46-20, No. 10 RPI) and Georgia (16-37, No. 118 RPI), in addition to Tennessee (30-26, No. 45 RPI). UK will hit the road for SEC trips at Alabama (42-25, No. 11 RPI), South Carolina (54-16, No. 7 RPI), Ole Miss (39-24, No. 27 RPI), LSU (41-22, No. 22 RPI) and Florida (47-17, No. 4 RPI).
“One of the things that distinguishes the SEC as one the best league in the nation is the passionate fan bases,” Henderson said. “We will have the opportunity to face the last two national champions on the road this season (South Carolina, LSU), in addition to Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama. We are looking forward to the challenge of competing on the road.”
Highlighting UK’s non-conference schedule during the midweek are games against Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, Murray State, Cincinnati, Xavier, Louisville (50-14, No. 8 RPI), Western Kentucky (35-23, No. 38 RPI) and Indiana . UK will also face off with Niagara in a three-game series, and Canisius and Tennessee Tech in midweek games.
“Since UK’s 2006 SEC Championship season, college baseball in the state of Kentucky has taken off,” Henderson said. “We really enjoy competing against schools in the state and helping to grow our sport throughout the state.”