Confident UK baseball to face red-hot Florida

Junior second baseman Ka’ai Tom (25) prepares to bunt the ball during the baseball game against Tennessee on Saturday, April 18, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky swept the Vols, winning the final game 5-3. Photo by Hunter Mitchell

By Derek Terry

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UK baseball (23-16) was able to get back in the thick of the SEC East race with a sweep over Tennessee last weekend, but a much bigger challenge awaits the Cats this weekend.

UK will travel to Gainesville to take on a red-hot Florida (32-10) squad that has won eight of its last 10 games. The Gators, who are currently tied for first place in the SEC East along with Vanderbilt and Missouri, are coming off a sweep of their own against Mississippi State.

Both teams have a four-game winning streak going into the upcoming series.

Behind the winning streak for the Cats was strong pitching performances from both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Dustin Beggs and Zack Brown each threw over seven innings last weekend to earn wins in their respective starts. Beggs has worked into the ninth inning in his last two outings, but he wasn’t able to finish the complete game in either start.

Head coach Gary Henderson believes that starting pitching will be the key to the series against Florida.

“Our confidence is going to start with the starting pitching,” Henderson said. “If we get good starting pitching from Zack and Dustin, then we’ll maintain our confidence. Obviously we’re playing a really good team, so we’ll need to play well to win.”

While Brown will pitch on Friday night and Beggs will start on Saturday, Sunday’s starter has yet to be named.

Senior right-hander Andrew Nelson pieced together a solid start last weekend

against Tennessee as he only allowed two hits over 4.1 innings of work. It was his first start of the season as he replaced Kyle Cody in the rotation, who had been struggling in SEC play.

Cody started against Xavier on Wednesday and picked up his first win since March 8, shutting the Musketeers out over four innings of work. The junior right-hander, who was tabbed a Preseason All-American, only threw 51 pitches and allowed one hit, which leaves the possibility of him starting on Sunday if Henderson chooses to go that route. While Cody is focused on getting back on the right track, he said the team is feeling good about its chances this weekend.

“Last weekend was a big weekend for us,” Cody said. “It put us right back in the middle of things. We have a lot of confidence as a team right now, so that’s huge for us going down to Florida. So this is going to be a big series for us.”

Outfielders Kyle Barrett and Ka’ai Tom continue to swing hot bats on the season. Tom’s three hits on Wednesday raised his season batting average to .386. He also has 61 hits on the season, which is good for second on the team, just behind Barrett’s 63.

First pitch for Friday’s and Saturday’s games will be at 7 p.m., and the series finale will start at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.