Matt Rice bats for WKU: BluGrass Baseball photo
The draft is already underway, but we’ll continue our previews for schools with some players projected to go in later rounds. You can follow the Kentucky-related draft news all day from BluGrass Baseball via Twitter. Check out prospects from Western Kentucky University below:
- One would think a catcher that has hit as well as Matt Rice has would be a top draft prospect, but a variety of factors have diminished his prospect status. First, he’s a little oversized for the position and doesn’t look pretty at times on defense. But perhaps even more relevant to his draft hopes is his status as a candidate to become WKU’s first Rhodes Scholar. Baseball America projected the potential honor would move Rice down teams boards as they are leery of the prospects of trying to sign him away from Rhodes. Still Rice should go off the board on day two.
- Senior right-handed pitcher Matt Ridings, the Sun Belt pitcher of the year, was projected to be drafted in the first ten rounds before Tommy John surgery ended his season just before the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Still when asked by BluGrass Baseball, Jim Callis of Baseball America said of Ridings: “Area scouts love him. Someone will take a flier.” Ridings doesn’t have great stuff or eye-popping size, but he’s demonstrated an excellent feel for pitching through his WKU career.
- Redshirt sophomore closer Rye Davis missed 2009 with an eye injury, but was unhittable during his return this season. Davis saved nine games and struck out 63 in 49.2 innings. Opponents batted just .249 against Davis, who even made a start during the Sun Belt tournament. As a draft-eligible sophomore Davis figures to go late in the draft to a team who hopes it can sign him away from returning to WKU for his junior season.
Senior hoping for chance
- Senior second baseman Matt Payton batted .354 in 2010 with seven home runs and 55 RBI. Payton figures to be a late senior sign in the draft and will hope to impress a team enough to stick around during short-season ball.
- Left-handed pitcher Bart Carter was ranked among the top 25 draft prospects in the state by Baseball America after experiencing mixed success in the WKU bullpen in 2010. Carter finished the year 3-1 with a 5.61 ERA, but could get a chance late in the draft as a lefty specialist.
Other eligible juniors
- OF Matt Bracken
- OF Chris Bullard
- OF Monte Ketchum
- RHP Scott Pederson
- OF Kory Petri
- RHP Brian Edelen
- LHP Garrie Krueger
Other eligible seniors
- RHP Shane Cameron
- 1B Jake Wells
High school signees
- RHP Justin Hageman of Hopkinsville High School was listed by Baseball America as one of the state’s top 25 draft prospects and could be the best candidate of Kentucky high schoolers to sign.
Matt Rice bats for WKU: BluGrass Baseball photo
In the fifth of the season review post series we’ll look at Western Kentucky University, who was ranked in the top 25 for much of the season before slumping to a six-place Sun Belt Conference finish. The Hilltoppers finished the 2010 season at 35-23.
- Hitter of the year: C Matt Rice — Rice led the Hilltoppers in batting average (.369), home runs (10), RBI (65) and on-base percentage (.446). The junior catcher, a mechanical engineering major, excelled in the classroom as well and has a chance to become WKU’s first ever Rhodes Scholar. Rice was named the BluGrass Baseball first-team all-state catcher and started each of WKU’s 58 games.
- Pitcher of the year: RHP Matt Ridings — The senior ace’s season ended on a heartbreaking note with an injury in his final start that led to Tommy John surgery this week, but Riding’s performance in 2010 was outstanding. Ridings led WKU in wins (9), ERA (3.01), strikeouts (90), innings pitched (92.2) and batting average against (.218) in route to being named a Louisville Slugger third-team All-American. The Sun Belt pitcher will look to earn a late-round draft selection despite the injury and rehab his way back to a professional career.
- Season high point: A 24-8 drubbing of in-state rival University of Kentucky on April 20 improved WKU’s record to 28-12 on the season and appeared to put WKU on track for an at-large NCAA tournament bid. The Hilltoppers were for one night at least the second best team in the state and on the verge of stepping out of the spotlight of UK and UofL.
- Season low point: Following the UK win, WKU finished the season in a 7-11 slump, culminated by a heartbreaking 9-8, 10-inning loss in the first round of the Sun Belt tournament. WKU could not rebound from the defeat and was eliminated in its next game with a 7-3 loss to FIU.
- Miscellaneous: Second baseman Matt Payton was named a finalist for the Lowe’ Senior Class award and batted .354 with seven home runs, 55 RBI and 63 runs scored…Sophomore outfielders Jared Andreoli and Kes Carter had breakout campaigns with identical .341 batting averages…Redshirt sophomore closer Rye Davis saved nine games and struck out 63 batters in just 49.2 innings pitched.
The day two conference tournament schedule gets a little confusing since Murray St. and EKU have to play two games each. WKU has been eliminated with a morning loss, and Murray St. faces elimination in its afternoon game. I’ve updated the schedule below after EKU defeated Murray State in this morning’s game:
- 9 a.m. (CT): Western Kentucky University (8) vs. FIU (4) — Sun Belt Conference Tournament — L (7-3) — Box Score
- 9 a.m. (CT): Murray State University (3) vs. Eastern Kentucky University (6) — Ohio Valley Conference Tournament — RHP Anthony Bazzani (4-3, 5.71) vs. Chris Craycraft (6-4, 5.25) — 4-3 — Box Score
- 12:30 p.m. (CT): Murray St. vs. SE Missouri — OVC Tournament — Live Stats*
- 8 p.m. (EST): No. 9 University of Louisville (1) vs. St. Johns (4) — Big East Conference Tournament — Live Stats
- 8:30 p.m. (EST): EKU (6) vs. Tennessee Tech (1) — OVC Tournament — Live Stats
* — Denotes an elimination game
While one of the Wednesday’s conference tournament games scheduled for Kentucky teams was postponed, the other two postseason eligible squads were in action. Read below for recaps and awards from those games:
- No. 9 University of Louisville, the No. 1 seed in the Big East Conference tournament, came-from-behind to defeat eight-seed West Virginia 11-4 in the Cards’ opening game of the tournament. UofL trailed four to one entering the seventh inning, but scored four times in the seventh and six times in the eighth inning to blow the game open. Sophomore second baseman Ryan Wright was 2-5 with a home run, five RBI and two runs scored. Senior shortstop Adam Duvall and senior third baseman Phil Wunderlich also tallied two hits in the game. Sophomore right-handed reliever Tony Zych earned the win with one and one-third scoreless innings out of the Cards’ bullpen. (Box Score)
- Eight-seed Western Kentucky University took the lead in extra innings, but one-seed Florida Atlantic launched a walk-off, three-run home run in the bottom of the 13th inning to hand the Hilltoppers a 9-8 loss in their opening game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Sophomore shortstop Logan Robbins was 3-6 with a home run, four RBI and one run scored. Junior closer Rye Davis made his first start of the season and allowed five runs, two of which were earned, in four and one-third innings. Senior reliever Bart Carter took his first loss of the season. (Box Score)
- The opening-round Ohio Valley Conference tournament game between Murray State University and Eastern Kentucky University was postponed untill 9 a.m. (CT) Thursday due to a power outage that prevented the lights from being turned on. The loser of today’s game will have to immediately turn around and face Southeast Missouri at 12:30 (CT).
Hitter of the day: 2B Ryan Wright (UofL)
- Stats: 2-5, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 2 R, 1 2B
- Honorable Mention: Logan Robbins (WKU), Jared Andreoli (WKU), Adam Duvall (UofL)
Pitcher of the day: RHP Thomas Royse (UofL)
- Stats: ND, 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB 6 SO
- Honorable Mention: Tony Zych (UofL), Neil Holland (UofL), Phil Wetherell (WKU)
In lieu of the normal mid-week schedule item, I’ll be posting daily schedules for the conference tournament action including Kentucky teams this week. Four schools will be battling for automatic bids to the NCAA tournament in the Big East Conference, Sun Belt Conference and Ohio Valley Conference. Day one is highlighted by a matchup between two Kentucky schools in EKU and Murray St. Teams’ tournament seeds are included in parentheses below:
- 12:30 p.m. (CT): Western Kentucky University (8) vs. Florida Atlantic (1) — Sun Belt Tournament —Live Stats
- 5 p.m. : University of Louisville (1) vs. West Virginia (8) — Big East Tournament — Live Stats
- 8 p.m.: Eastern Kentucky University (6) vs. Murray State University (3) — OVC Tournament — RHP Anthony Bazzani (4-3, 5.71) vs. Chris Craycraft (6-4, 5.25) — Live Stats
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.
- First team All-Southeastern Conference: 3B Zack Cox (Arkansas, PRP)
- Second team All-SEC: 2B Chris Bisson (University of Kentucky)
- First team All-Big East: P Neil Holland (UofL), P Thomas Royse (UofL), 1B Andrew Clark (UofL), 2B Ryan Wright (UofL)
- Second team All-Big East: C Jeff Arnold (UofL), 3B Phil Wunderlich (UofL), SS Adam Duvall (UofL), OF Stewart Ijames (UofL)
- First team All-Big Ten Conference: SS Jonathan Roof (Michigan St., Paducah)
- First team All-Sun Belt: RHP Matt Ridings (WKU), RP Rye Davis (WKU), C Matt Rice (WKU), OF Kes Carter (WKU)
- Second team All-Sun Belt: 2B Matt Payton (WKU)
- First team All-OVC: 1B Wes Cunningham (Murray St.), SS Drew Lee (Morehead State University), 3B Jayson Langfels (Eastern Kentucky University), OF J. D. Ashbrook (Morehead St.).
- Second team All-OVC: 1B Anthony Ottrando (EKU), UT Michael Bottoms (Morehead St.), SP Chris Craycraft (Murray St.), RP Matt McGaha (Murray St.)
- Freshman All-OVC: RHP Anthony Bazzani (EKU), OF Austin Grisham (EKU), SS Brandon Elliott (Murray St.), 3B/DH Colton Moore (Murray St.)
- Honorable Mention All-Missouri Valley Conference: SP Patrick Cooper (Bradley, Danville)
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.