University of Kentucky junior second baseman and preseason All-America Chris Bisson has signed a professional contract with the San Diego Padres as the team’s fourth-round draft pick, Corey Brock of MLB.comreports via Twitter. Bisson batted .329 with five home runs, 43 runs scored and 35 RBI for UK in 2010 and led the Southeastern Conference with 32 stolen bases. The Ontario native missed five games after being hit in the face by a pitch early in the season and had to play through a minor slump after returning from injury. As a sophomore Bisson batted .360 and led the Cape Cod League with 36 stolen bases during the summer of 2009. Bisson will begin his professional career at short-season Eugene.
Three more University of Louisville Cardinals have signed professional contracts, led by senior first baseman Andrew Clark. Clark, who signed with the Texas Rangers as the team’s 13th round selection, batted .370 with 13 home runs and 61 RBI in 2010 despite missing several weeks with a rib cage injury. Junior left-handed pitcher Dean Kiekhefer and senior left-handed pitcher Bob Revesz wont have to change mascots after signing with the St. Louis Cardinals as the team’s 36th and 49th round picks respectively. Kiekhefer was 3-4 with a 4.34 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 62.2 innings pitched in 2010, and Revesz was 1-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched.
In the fourth post of the season review series we’ll look at the University of Kentucky. After finishing with a 31-25 record and top-40 RPI, the Cats are still reeling from the disappointment of being left out of the NCAA tournament. Check out highlights and awards from their season below:
Hitter of the year: UT Gunner Glad — The senior infielder primarily played first base for the Cats but also spent time at third and outfield this season. Glad led UK hitters who qualified for the batting title with a .336 average, 12 home runs, 45 RBI and 49 runs scored. Glad played in all 56 games for UK, making all but one start.
Pitcher of the year: LHP Taylor Rogers — When you break it down the pitching for UK was pretty dismal on the whole, but Rogers stood out early in the season and deserves recognition for holding his own in the Southeastern Conference as a freshman. The Colorado native finished the season at 4-7 with a 6.40 ERA, but was the only UK starting pitcher not to miss a start on the season. His 83 innings pitched also gave the bullpen a much-needed break.
Season high point: Senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer launched a grand slam in his final home at-bat to send UK to a series sweep over defending national champion LSU. The win appeared to lock up a SEC tournament and NCAA tournament bid for the Cats, but the season low point ruined that.
Season low point: Entering the season’s final weekend UK was tied for the final birth fort the SEC tournament with the ability to control its own destiny, but the Cats dropped the first two games of its series with last-place Georgia including a 20-0 blowout in game two. The series loss dropped them from SEC tournament contention and ended up being the death-blow to UK’s NCAA tournament hopes.
Miscellaneous: Junior-college transfer Lance Ray was among the best hitters in the SEC after moving into the UK lineup on a full-time basis and finished the season with a .356 batting average, 10 home runs, 34 RBI, 29 runs scored and .720 slugging percentage in just 118 at-bats…The Cats were without one weekend starter for much of the season as sophomore Alex Meyer missed several weeks with mono and junior Logan Darnell missed time with shoulder tendinitis…Freshman outfielder Brian Adams, who is also a wide receiver on the UK football team,started every game in UK’s last two series and ended the season 17-36 (.472).
If you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks, you would have noticed I’m down on the University of Kentucky‘s hopes for a NCAA tournament at-large bid. After giving an interview to my friend James Pennington of Kentucky Sports Radio earlier this week, where I expressed those sentiments, I was provided with some information making the case for UK’s tourney hopes. While I’m still not sold, and the conference tournaments haven’t gone as well as UK could have hoped, here’s the case for including the Cats in the tournament:
UK ended the regular season with the No. 29 RBI. Only three teams with an RPI less than 30 have been left out of the NCAA tournament since 2007.
One of those teams was fellow Southeastern Conference school Auburn in 2009 (No. 28), but the Tigers were the 10th ranked team in the SEC.
UK played the seventh toughest schedule in the country.
The Cats have 9 wins over the RPI top 15.
Kentucky has 16 wins over the RPI top 50, which was eighth most in the country at the end of the regular season.
The ninth-place SEC team has received an at-large bid in two of the last four seasons.
Points against UK:
No matter how you spin it, losing two-of-three to last-place Georgia in the final series of the season when the Cats had a chance to control their own destiny is just ugly.
While the Cats have faced a plethora of injuries in their starting rotation, which is fully healthy now, it’s not like those pitchers have performed very well when healthy.
UK will get no bonus points for losing 2009 first-round pick James Paxton. Paxton never played for this team and certainly won’t suit up in the NCAA tournament, so UK without Paxton is what it is.
Southern Mississippi won the Conference USA tournament, taking away one at-large bid. Unfavorable outcomes in the Missouri Valley, Southland and the Atlantic Sun tournaments could take away other at-large positions. If St. Johns wins the Big East tournament today over UCONN, that’s one more bid off the board.
Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com had UK in his last NCAA projection before the conference tournaments, but he picked the Cats as the third-to-last team in the field. The conference tournaments simply haven’t gone as well as UK hoped, so selection Monday will be anything but comfortable for coach Gary Henderson and his team. The good news is unlike some conference tournament teams, UK hasn’t done anything this week to hurt its chances.
Tuesday saw the naming of all-conference teams across the country and the awarding of pitcher and player of the year honors. Kentucky collegiate players received their fair share of recognition, and I’ve listed those honors below:
University of Louisville (9) junior right-handed pitcher Thomas Royse was named the Big East Conference pitcher of the year.
Western Kentucky University senior right-handed pitcher Matt Ridings was named the Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year.
Murray State University senior first baseman Wes Cunningham was named the Ohio Valley Conference player of the year.
Postseason races were decided Friday across the Bluegrass and one team clinched a tournament berth. Check out recaps and awards from those games below:
No. 11 University of Louisville‘s game vs. Notre Dame was rained out and postponed as part of a double-header Saturday. UCONN has won the first two games of its weekend series, meaning a Huskies’ win or Cards’ loss Saturday will clinch the regular season Big East championship for UCONN.
The University of Kentucky was embarrassed in a 20-0 blowout loss to last-place Georgia Friday and was eliminated from Southeastern Conference tournament contention with a LSU victory. Georgia scored in each of the first five innings and removed any doubt from the outcome with a seven-run seventh inning. Redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Joe Devine was the only UK pitcher to hold Georgia scoreless. Freshman left fielder Brian Adams and sophomore third baseman Andy Burns each tallied two hits in the game. (Box Score)
Western Kentucky University dropped game two of its three-game series to Middle Tennessee with a 7-2 loss Friday. Senior right-handed pitcher Shane Cameron took the loss despite only surrendering three runs in seven and one-third innings. No WKU batter recorded multiple hits in the game, and the Hilltopper bullpen surrendered four runs over the final one and two-third innings. Saturday’s rubber match between the two teams will be significant in determining Sun Belt Conference tournament seeding. (Box Score)
Murray State University was swept in its Friday double-header by Tennessee Tech, giving Tech the Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship. The Breds lost game one 15-8 and game two 8-3. Senior first baseman Wes Cunningham launched a home run in each game, and senior left fielder Bryan Propst finished the afternoon 4-7 with two home runs, three runs scored and three RBI. Senior right-handed pitcher Chris Craycraft took the loss in game one after allowing nine runs in three and one-third innings, and redshirt junior left-handed pitcher Jake Donze couldn’t record an out in the second inning in his game two loss. (Box Score GM 1) (Box Score GM 2)
Morehead State University was eliminated for OVC tournament contention with a double-header sweep by Jacksonville St with a 10-7 loss in game one and 17-0 blowout in game two. Senior pitcher/designated hitter Michael Bottoms was 4-5 in game one and allowed just three runs in seven innings on the mound. Senior shortstop Drew Lee homered in game one. Redshirt sophomore right-handed pitcher Josh Schneider and sophomore right-handed pitcher Matthew Robertson took the two losses. (Box Score GM 1) (Box Score GM 2)
Eastern Kentucky University swept a double-header from SIU Edwardsville and clinched a spot in the OVC tournament with Morehead St.’s and UT Martin’s losses. EKU won both games by 4-1 scores. Junior left-handed pitcher Paul Duncan allowed one unearned run in six and two-third innings for the game-one win. Freshman right-handed pitcher Anthony Bazzani scored the game-two victory with one run in five innings. Junior left fielder Ryan Faidley tallied two hits in game one and junior third baseman Jayson Langfels recorded two hits in game two. (Box Score GM 1) (Box Score GM 2)
Hitter of the day: LF Bryan Popst (Murray St.)
Stats: 2 G, 4-7, 2 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI
Honorable Mention: Wes Cunningham (Murray St.), Brian Adams (UK), Michael Bottoms (Morehead St.), Ryan Faidley (EKU)
Pitcher of the day: LHP Paul Duncan (EKU)
Stats: 1-0, 6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO
Honorable Mention: Shane Cameron (WKU), Michael Bottoms (Morehead St.), Anthony Bazzani (EKU)
There is just one weekend of the regular season left, and several Kentucky team’s face big postseason questions entering their final contests. Last week we ran down the stretch drive prospects for each team, but now I’ll give a brief update on those posts in one item.
No. 11 University of Louisville looked to have taken a step back with a series opening loss to St. Johns last week, but salvaged wins in the final two games of the series to stay within one game of UCONN for first place in the Big East Conference. The Cards travel to eighth-place Notre Dame, while UCONN hosts 11th-place Seton Hall in the final weekend. UofL has the tougher series and will likely a series win and a UCONN series loss to tie the Huskies and two more wins than UCONN on the weekend to win the regular season championship outright. Either way, the Cards look in good shape for one of the eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament.
The University of Kentucky did exactly what it need to last week with a series sweep of LSU. Now UK is tied with Tennessee, LSU and Alabama for seventh in the Southeastern Conference and controls its own destiny. A series win at last-place Georgia likely puts the Cats in the SEC and NCAA tournament, but a sweep would guarantee a bid. Tennessee and Alabama square off against each other, so the series loser will be out of the tournament race. LSU hosts next-to-last Mississippi St., and a Tigers’ sweep would put added pressure on UK.
Western Kentucky University likely saw its at-large NCAA tournament bid hopes slip away with a series loss at Louisiana-Lafayette last weekend. The Hilltoppers are currently tied for seventh in the Sun Belt Conference, which is simply not good enough for an at-large bid regardless of their strong RPI. WKU needs to win the Sun Belt tournament to earn the conference’s automatic bid to qualify for the field of 64 at this point.
The Ohio Valley Conference postseason picture became more muddled last weekend with several rainouts and a tie between Murray State University and Morehead State University. Only the OVC tournament champion will make the NCAA tournament, and the Breds currently sit a half-game in front of Tennessee Tech for the regular season title. Murray St. and Tennessee Tech. square off this weekend in a three-game series to determine the regular season champion. The top six regular-season teams will qualify for the conference tournament, and Eastern Kentucky University currently holds the sixth position but has already concluded its conference schedule. Morehead State University is in seventh and could take EKU’s tournament bid with a series win against fourth-place Jacksonville St. UT Martin is in eight, just percentage points behind Morehead as the Eagles have played fewer games due to weather, and could knock both Kentucky teams out of the conference tournament with a series win against last-place Austin Peay. EKU still has a series against SIU Edwardsville to play, but it will not affect the standings.
Weekly roundup of conference honors and top 25 rankings:
University of Kentucky senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer was named Southeastern Conference player of the week after hitting a go-ahead grand slam in his last home at-bat to send UK to a sweep against LSU.
Western Kentucky University senior right-handed pitcher Matt Ridings was named the Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the week for his performance against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Eastern Kentucky University freshman right-handed pitcher Anthony Bazzani was named Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the week after his complete-game victory against Jacksonville State.
The University of Louisville fell to No. 11 in the latest Baseball Americatop 25 rankings.
UofL also dropped to No. 10 in the latest Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sportstop 25.
In the third stretch drive breakdown post we’ll look at the University of Kentucky. The Cats’ postseason chances appeared to be running on fumes before a series victory against No. 8 South Carolina last weekend put UK back on the tournament bubble. Midweek losses to Indiana and Lipscomb took away some of the Cats’ momentum, but UK still has a shot with a strong finish to the conference slate. UK is 10th in the Southeastern Conference, one game behind Alabama for ninth and two back of Tennessee for the eighth and the final SEC tournament berth.
The good news is UK welcomes seventh-place LSU to town this weekend. The Tigers are three games ahead of UK, and a Cats’ series sweep would put them squarely back in the SEC tournament picture. A series victory would also keep the Cats at least in the tournament race. UK travels to last-place Georgia in the final series of the season. If the Cats drop that series they can kiss their postseason hopes goodbye.
The SEC is likely to get at least eight bids to the NCAA tournament. With its No. 29 RPI, UK would likely earn an at-large bid if it reaches the SEC tournament. Some national pundits have projected the SEC could get nine bids, but UK would probably need series sweeps in each of the last two weeks to get that ninth spot if it doesn’t qualify for the conference tournament.
(You can see the Rivals.com field of 64 projection here and the Baseball Americastock report here.)
BluGrass Baseball made its Lexington radio debut Friday as a guest on Sports Nightly on 630 WLAP. I was a guest of The Cats Pause‘s Matt May, who was filling in for usual host Dick Gabriel. Click the link and fast forward to the 30 minute mark to hear our conversation about University of Kentucky baseball and the team’s outlook for the rest of the season. (Listen here)