As the end of the regular season fast approaches, two of the country’s top teams will battle it out in Lexington, Kentucky this weekend when the Kentucky Wildcats host the Florida Gators in a three game SEC series.
Number 7 ranked Kentucky enters with a record of 36-9 and 14-7 in SEC play which is good enough to put them in a three way tie with LSU and South Carolina to lead the SEC, and the program is off to their best start to a season and in league play in the long history of the school. Last weekend, the Wildcats suffered their first SEC series loss of the year against Vanderbilt where they lost two out of three games.
Number 5 ranked Florida enters this weekend with a 33-12 overall mark while being 12-9 in SEC play. This series is key for the Gators are they are currently two games behind the Wildcats. Florida has a league-best .980 fielding mark while leading the nation with 56 home runs and a .284 team batting average, along with a 3.00 team ERA.
Here are a few things to watch for as the Gators take on the Wildcats tonight:
First off, this series will boast six players recently named to USA Baseball Golden Spikes Watch List which goes out to the best amateur baseball player. Kentucky has RHP Trevor Gott, and catcher Luke Maile on the list. As a sophomore, Gott has taken his place as a shutdown reliever in the Wildcat bullpen, sporting a 1-0 record and 3.07 ERA. He has eight consecutive saves in nine chances. Maile, a junior, has been one of the prominent leaders behind and at the plate. With 11 home runs this season, he boasts a .587 slugging percentage with 43 RBI, and is hitting .329.
Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox, Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino from UF were all named to the list Tuesday, making Florida the program with the most players on the Golden Spikes Watch List. Johnson, a LHP and first baseman, has a .320 avg. and 30 RBI. He is went 5-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 12 appearances on the bump. Maddox, starting as designated hitter, catcher and RHP, is batting .276 and has a 1.58 ERA in 45.2 IP. His status this weekend is up in the air as he left this past Sunday’s game with a tired arm and is considered Day to Day according to Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. Tucker, a senior, is batting .309 with 30 RBI, and has a .583 slugging percentage. Junior catcher Zunino leads the team in hitting, boasting a .335 avg., with 12 homers and 43 RBI while being rated the third best prospect by MLB.com writer Jonathan Mayo this week.
On the rubber tonight will be junior LHP Taylor Rogers (5-2, 4.84 ERA) for the Wildcats, countered by Florida’s junior righty Hudson Randall (4-1, 3.46 ERA). On Friday, UK will send junior lefty Jerad Grundy (4-1, 4.29 ERA) to the hill against sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson (3-0, 3.86 ERA) from Florida. Saturday will bring sophomore lefty Corey Littrell (6-0, 3.46 ERA) to the mound for Kentucky, and junior LHP Brian Johnson (5-3, 4.50 ERA) for UF.