Rivalry renewed: Cats, Cards meet in midweek showdown


The UK Baseball team plays Bowling Green at Cliff Hagan Field on Friday, Feb. 26, 2010. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

It’s a midweek game sandwiched between two Southeastern Conference series in the middle of the year, with no bearing on the conference standings.

But it’s been circled on the calendars because it’s against rival Louisville.

“This game definitely stands out to us on the schedule,” senior outfielder Keenan Wiley said. “Anytime you play a team that’s an hour and a half away from you, it creates a pretty big rivalry.”

That rivalry goes between the lines on Tuesday when UK (18-11, 2-7 SEC) faces off against No. 8 Louisville (24-3, 5-1 Big East) at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

Wiley knows the power of the blue vs. red battles. Growing up in Richmond, Ky., he was instilled with a dislike for the Cardinals. As a fifth-year senior, Wiley is about to play his last home game against U of L, but his previous encounters haven’t blunted the rivalry at all.

“It’s definitely UK versus Louisville in this state,” Wiley said. “Every chance we have to beat them, we want to. I focus just that little bit more to beat them.”

Wiley knows just how to beat them. He launched a walk-off, extra-inning home run against the Cardinals in 2008, a moment he said ranked “up there” in terms of his career.

But he’ll pass on the chance to do it again.

“Hopefully we have a two- or three-run lead,” Wiley said. “Maybe I can just hit a homer to get some insurance runs this time.”

Senior catcher Marcus Nidiffer has been through the battles for multiple years as well and knows the importance of the game.

“We still have a lot of games left, but this one is definitely a special game,” Nidiffer said. “It’s pretty big for both teams, to be the winner.”

Beyond just the traditional rivalry between the two teams, the game does hold significance for the Cats. The first pitch thrown in Tuesday’s game will be the first since Arkansas sent UK home on Sunday with a walk-off grand slam in the ninth inning.

“That’s how it goes in this league,” Wiley said. “There’s a lot of ups and downs. But we still feel like we outplayed Arkansas in two of the three games.”

Even though the Cats dropped the series, they took encouraging signs from playing the 10th-ranked team in the nation close. The offense showed major signs of resuscitation, scoring 29 runs in the three games. In Sunday’s 17-16 slug-it-out battle, the Cats came back from eight runs down to take a lead, before ultimately giving it back.

“We’ve struggled getting our offense going when we’ve been trailing,” Wiley said. “We could have easily laid down, but we fought and came back and put ourselves in a position to win.”

U of L gives the Cats a great chance to rebound from the loss. As a premier team in the nation, a good showing against the Cardinals would instill much confidence in the team as it heads forward.

“They’re ranked and a really good team and we’re not (ranked),” Nidiffer said. “We’ve taken some tough losses, but we feel like we’re one step away from getting on a streak. We would love to do it against Louisville.”