Diamond Vols head into crucial bout with Kentucky

A crucial Southeastern Conference series plays out this weekend at UT’s Robert M. Lindsay Field at Lindsey Nelson Stadium as the Tennessee baseball team (25-24, 11-13 SEC) hosts SEC Eastern Division rival Kentucky for an implication-laden three-game set. Both clubs enter the weekend tied for eighth in the overall league standings, and only the top-eight teams receive berths to the SEC Tournament May 21-25 in Hoover, Ala.

Games times this weekend are set for 7 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Saturday’s game will be televised regionally on SportSouth. All three games will be broadcast on the radio in the Knoxville area on WNML AM 990, FM 99.1 & 99.3. And the radio broadcasts also can be accessed for free online at UTsports.com.

This weekend’s series marks UT’s final three home games of the season. Tennessee’s 2008 seniors will be honored during Senior Day ceremonies prior to Sunday’s home finale.

While the Kentucky series has a bit of “farewell” feel for the Vols seniors, it also means that Tennessee’s freshmen are nearing the completion of their first collegiate campaign. According to their statistics, the future for UT’s freshmen is bright.

The true-freshmen quartet of SEC Freshman of the Year candidate Kentrail Davis, Josh Liles, P.J. Polk and Blake Forsythe have combined to account for about one third of Tennessee’s hits and RBI this season. The rookies have produced 149 of UT’s 481 total hits (31.0 percent) and 92 of the team’s 265 RBI (34.7 percent). Outfielders Davis, Liles and Polk also have combined for 31.5 percent of UT’s stolen bases this season (17 of 54).

Kentucky, ranked as high as No. 22 in this week’s national college baseball polls, has been powered by an explosive offense that ranks as the league leader in nine offensive categories. The Wildcats under fifth-year head coach John Cohen own a 35-14 (11-13 SEC) record entering the series.

This weekend’s pitching matchups feature UT sophomore left-hander Nick Hernandez (1-4, 5.45 ERA) taking the mound Friday against Kentucky left-hander Chris Rusin (4-2, 2.91 ERA). Redshirt freshman lefty Bryan Morgado (5-3, 3.88 ERA) will start for the Vols on Saturday opposite Wildcats southpaw James Paxton (3-2, 3.22 ERA). Tennessee has not announced a starting pitcher for Sunday’s series-finale, while UK is expected to send right-handed senior Greg Dombrowski (5-0, 3.12 ERA) to the hill.

Tennessee leads the all-time series with Kentucky 146-120, dating to 1915. The Vols hold a 50-29 advantage in Knoxville and have won six of their last 10 meetings with the Wildcats.

Numerous promotions are slated to take place at the ballpark this weekend. As always during SEC play, there will be a postgame fireworks show on Friday.

Tennessee’s “Family Plan” ticket package is available for Saturday’s game. For just $20, families receive four tickets, a large pizza and a baseball autographed by a Vol of their choice. Saturday is also “Little League Day,” and all kids (age 12 and under) who wear their baseball uniform to the ballpark will receive free admission.

Sunday is “Fan Appreciation Day,” with all kids (age 17 and under) receiving free admission as well as a coupon for a free hot dog and drink. Kids can run the bases after the game, and fans can visit with the Vols on the field after the series-finale as well. Free admission on Sunday also will be given to all fans who bring two non-perishable food items to the stadium for donation to the Mission of Hope.

The 2008 Tennessee baseball trading cards also will be given away this weekend. Half the set will be given away at the gate Saturday, and half the set will be distributed Sunday. The first 500 fans at the stadium each day will receive the free trading cards.

Should inclement weather threaten the status of any game this weekend, fans are encouraged to call (865) 974-5555 to receive the most up-to-date information regarding the game’s status before heading to the ballpark.

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