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NCAA Tournament: Kentucky vs Kent State Preview and Game Thread

The Kentucky Wildcats face the Kent State Golden Flashes at 4:00 PM today in the first game of the Gary, IN regional. Kent St. enters the contest on a 17 game winning streak, winners of the MAC regular season and tournament titles, and boasting a powerful offense that ranks 12th in the country in scoring at 7.1 runs per game. Kentucky is looking to rebound from a tough stretch at the end of the regular season that saw them lose 5 of their last 7 games including four to Mississippi St. Fortunately the Bulldogs are not in this regional, so maybe the Cats can get off the schneide.

Regional Previews:
A Sea of Blue
Hammer and Rails

Game Info:
Live stats via Game Tracker
Radio: 630, 1080-AM radio
Online audio
Live blog
Online video: none that I am aware of.

The importance of this first game can't be overstated. Losing would require the Cats to win 4 straight games to move on. Winning means only two more victories are needed to advance to a Super Regional.

Kentucky sends junior lefty Taylor Rogers to the hill against Kent St ace David Starn. Rogers is 6-4 with a 4.31 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 8.24 K/9. He is Kentucky's usual Friday starter and Gary Henderson clearly is approaching the first game of the regional the same way he would a weekend series. Starn is 10-3, 1.77 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 9.96 K/9. He holds the school record for victories and is clearly the Flashes' best pitcher.

As mentioned above, Kent State brings a potent offense to the game. Their lineup features 4 players who have put up a .900 OPS over 200 ABs and 4 of their 5 best hitters are either righties or switch hitters - a potential problem for the lefty. Earlier in the season they beat Bowling Green by a score of 31-20: Holy Football Score Batman!

By the by, how would you like to be Bowling Green: score 20 runs and still get beat by double digits?

Kentucky owns a perfect 5-0 record against Kent St, but that doesn't mean anything going into this game. Reading articles around the internet, a lot of people like Kentucky to come out of this regional, but Kent St is also viewed as a good choice to spring the upset in this game.

Keys for the Cats:

  • Keep up the strong pitching. In the SEC Tournament the Kentucky staff allowed the grand total of 3 runs in 3 games. That's the kind of effort and effectiveness they need to win this game and the regional.
  • Get Jobu some rum. As good as the pitching was in the tournament, the hitting has all but disappeared the last few weeks for the Cats. They have only scored 18 runs in their last 7 games - that simply won't be enough to beat a team as strong offensively as Kent St.
  • String hits together. An extension of the 2nd point, a scouting report from Jerry Palm on U.S. Steel Yard indicates that it is a difficult place to hit homeruns. That means the Cats are going to have to string together a lot of hits to score - counting on the longball is not a good idea.
Yes, I did just list "pitch well" and "hit well" as the keys to the game. Baseball really is that simple though!

I won't be able to catch the game live, but use this post as a game thread and I'll have a post game wrapup later tonight.