Baseball: Rebels tangle with Wildcats

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

The rapid ascent of Kentucky may take some SEC baseball observers by surprise, but Tanner Mathis says he isn’t one of those.
The Wildcats, just 25-30 last year, 8-22 in conference games, have won 28 of their first 30 this season and are ranked No. 1 by College Baseball, No. 8 by Baseball America.
“That just says how much the older guys they’ve had the past couple years have worked and how much their coaches have kept behind them and kept pushing forward,” said Mathis, left fielder for No. 10 Ole Miss.
The Rebels (20-8, 5-4 SEC) were rained out against Southern Miss on Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl and haven’t played since winning two of three against Florida, Baseball America’s No. 1-ranked team, last weekend.
Ole Miss is in Lexington, Ky., this weekend for three games against the Wildcats (28-2, 7-2). Game times are 5:30 p.m., today, 1 p.m., Saturday and noon on Sunday.
Kentucky plays in a park built for power and takes full advantage. The right field wall at Cliff Hagan Stadium is a scant 310 feet from home plate.
Wednesday, the Wildcats launched six home runs in a 19-7 win over Dayton, improving to 20-0 at home. Seven of those wins have come in one-run games.
“They’re obviously very talented,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “People have criticized their schedule, but the truth of the matter is, to go that long and not lose a game, then in conference to win three weekends in a row … it’s pretty impressive.”
Kentucky has a strength-of-schedule ranking of No. 67, compared to the Rebels’ schedule strength at No. 27.
Plenty of bats
The Wildcats’ .333 batting average leads the SEC. In conference games they’re hitting .283, second in the league.
Kentucky coach Gary Henderson praised his outfield depth following the Dayton game, saying the Wildcats can go six-deep behind the infield.
The catalyst offensively from the back three is freshman Austin Cousino. He’s second on the team in hitting (.363), third in home runs (five) and RBIs (26) and leads with 11 doubles.
“He’s a good baseball player,” Henderson said. “The last 10-15 games he’s doing a better job of laying off balls that are up. He’s got a fairly good understanding of what the strike zone is, and he’s learning that he can hit. He’s got a great swing, and he understands the game.”
parrish.alford@journalinc.com