Highlights from Monday’s baseball/softball media at the University of Kentucky’s Wildcat Den.
Leading off with baseball, as high as No. 8 (Collegiate Baseball) in the pre-season rankings.
The Wildcats are coming off a school-record 45-18 season, 18-13 in the Southeastern Conference, and an NCAA regional berth.
“We’re excited to get the season going. We’ve got a great group of kids,” Coach Gary Henderson said. “Lots of energy in the program. Lots of excitement with returning kids that have done well here, had good summers, had impressive falls. It’s a good group of kids. They like each other. They like to practice. They like to play. So it’s an exciting time for us.”
The Cats’ weekend (SEC) rotation sets up with left-handers Jerad Grundy, A.J. Reed and Corey Littrell.
“We’ve got four guys in my mind that could easily be weekend starters but, obviously, it’s only going to be three. And because of what we’ve got in the bullpen, it seems to make sense to hold the right-hander back.”
The right-hander being Chandler Shepherd, a sophomore out of Lawrence County.
“We need what he has in the bullpen, so that’s what we’ll start,” Henderson said. “Sometimes things change, and sometimes they don’t. There’s been years here we’ve been the same three guys the entire year. We’ll see how it goes. But that’s three talented kids and they’ll do a very good job of competing and throwing strikes.”
Having lost the powerful tandem of Michael Williams and Luke Maile, catcher is the most notable void to be filled.
“We’ve got Micheal Thomas, who’s in front right now,” Henderson said. “We’ve got three other guys — Greg Fettes is a redshirt freshman; Zach Arnold and Casey Schroeder are freshman. All three of the kids have been drafted, so we’ve got some talented kids back there.
“I’m really happy with Micheal Thomas’ progression and development, maturity and growth and all those things that you look for. He’s done a great job. If anybody who’s followed the program at all during my time here … you know that I’m a big advocate of two catchers. Doesn’t mean that you have to do it that way; I just like to do it that way, for a couple of reasons. That’s exactly what we’ll shoot for this year. Micheal Thomas right now is the guy that we’re going to run out there early, and see which one of those other three guys can grow into that position.”
The baseball Cats open the season Feb. 15, facing UNC-Asheville at Wofford. The home opener, against Murray State, is set for Feb. 26.
* UK softball opens Friday, taking on California — the first of six games the Cats will play at Tempe, Ariz.
UK’s first 20 games will be on the road while finishing touches are being put on UK’s renovated home complex.
After playing at Tempe, the Cats will play in tournaments at San Diego, Spartanburg (S.C.) and Tampa. The home opener, against Marshall, is set for March 6.
UK will be home to the Southeastern Conference tournament, May 8-11.
Coach Rachel Lawson said she focused on adding power and speed in what is viewed as an outstanding freshman class. She anticipates that four or five newcomers could land starting jobs.
The Cats made their fourth consecutive NCAA appearance last season, finishing 30-30.