Western Kentucky University (17) rallied for a 6-3 win Tuesday against in-state rival University of Kentucky behind four hits from senior first baseman Jake Wells and three RBI from senior shortstop Matt Payton, but it was WKU’s sophomores than made the most interesting statement of the game. The Cats’ sophomore class has been counted on for production since it entered campus as the fourth-best recruiting class in the country in 2009, but as conference play gets underway one could easily argue that the unheralded Hilltopper sophomores are having a bigger impact on their team.
WKU’s second-year players are headlined by a pair of relative unknowns entering the 2010 season in outfielders Jared Andreoli and Kes Carter. Still doubtful of their importance in the WKU lineup? Just look to the sixth inning Tuesday when UK head coach Gary Henderson elected to intentionally walk Carter to load the bases with two outs and face preseason All-American Matt Rice. Andreoli leads the Hilltoppers with a .389 batting average, Carter ranks second at .387. Andreoli ranks second in the state with 39 runs scored and Carter ranks fourth in the state with 33 RBI.
Meanwhile UK’s heralded sophomores spent all of 2009 counted on to lead a team to the NCAA tournament, an amount of pressure that was probably unfair to place on a group of freshman. The class has been led by its least heralded member in outfielder Chad Wright, who ranks second on the team with a .349 average and 20 RBI. Slugger Cory Farris has shown his token power stroke in limited action this season with six home runs, but hasn’t been able to break out of the right-field platoon. Designated hitter, pitcher and first baseman Braden Kapteyn is batting .266, and third baseman Andy Burns, arguably the most highly touted position player to ever sign with UK, is batting just .237.
WKU sophomore infielder Casey Dykes is excelling to the rate of a .340 average and four home runs after starting ever game this season. On the mound sophomore relievers Tyler Gilliand and Craig Stem both have sub-3.00 ERAs and over ten appearances in 2010. Just sophomore relievers Phil Whetherell and Aaron Mayfield with their over-6.00 ERAs and sophomore infielder Logan Robbins with his under-.200 batting average have struggled this season.
UK’s sophomore pitchers have enjoyed at least mixed success in 2010. Right-handed starting pitcher Alex Meyer, arguably the most talented pitcher in the state, has four wins but has struggled with his control to the tune of a 6.15 ERA. Sometime midweek starter Sean Bouthilette has a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings after a stellar six-inning performance Tuesday. Kapteyn hasn’t given up an unearned run in 6.2 innings this season, and righty Chase Greene pitched a scoreless inning in his only performance this year. Heralded catcher Michael Williams now finds himself in a battle for the backup time with freshman Luke Maile.
You can’t quite chalk up the success of the WKU incoming class of 2009 to inferior competition either. The Hilltoppers currently have more wins (2) against Southeastern Conference opponents than the Cats (1). The UK incoming class of 2009 has had the spotlight shined on it since its members reportedly made a pact to not sign professional contracts when drafted out of high school unless they received first-round money. I wrote my first feature about them just weeks after fall classes started their freshman year, but so far performance hasn’t quite matched up to the hype. The common thinking goes that the Cats have struggled because they are young, but they aren’t that young anymore. Just ask the sophomores to the west in Bowling Green.