On Deck:Kentucky Baseball
Let's talk Kentucky baseball. Baseball?
Most Wildcat fans are probably wondering, 'Why aren't you writing about Kentucky basketball, or the prep recruiting trail that Coach Jerry Claiborne and his staff are currently embarking on?
Well, if you didn't know, the Bat Cats of Coach Keith Madison are expecting good things of their own for the 1985 season. And all I want to do is let you in on some of the insights that the head coach has on this year's squad.
Cats' Pause Coluiimbi
This past fall Kentucky finished with a 11-0 record. In recording their perfect slate the Bat Cats outscored their opponents 131-52 as they hit for a .355 team average. With Kentucky's season starting February 23 against Florida Southern in Lakeland, Fla., the expectations are high for the '85 Bat Cats. Though, it's a problem Madison, who owns a 172-122-1 winning mark during his six-year stint as UK's head coach, doesn't mind facing.
"Since we are a senior dominated team I think there is a lot of pressure on our seniors," said Madison. "There is a lot of pressure on the team to do well this year. We feel like we should be in the playoffs. We know we're going to get a lot of good competition.''
With a list that includes nine seniors and 10 juniors on the 30-man roster, Kentucky definitely has the experience to challenge the Southeastern Conference East ballclubs -- Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Vanderbilt. Madison noted that Florida and Tennessee, along with his Bat Cats, should be the favorites in the SEC East title hunt. He warned, however, that Georgia, which had an excellent recruiting year in '84, and arch-rival Vandy shouldn't be overlooked.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Madison said. "But we feel like with a senior dominated team that we're going to be able to respond to it."
Bat Cat fans should be treated to a little bit of everything this season. A combination of stellar pitching performances, outstanding defensive plays, and timely hitting by UK will probably found at Shively Field, not to mention at opposing teams' turfs by the Cats as well. Overall UK has scheduled 24 games at home and 31 away from Shively.
"Pitching should be a strength for us," indicated Madison. "We have every pitcher back except for (Paul) Kilgus."
Kilgus, a southpaw selected by the Texas Rangers of the American League, was the Wildcats' top pitcher on last season's staff that compiled a 4.38 earned run average.
Senior right-hander Jay Ray is the No. 1 hurler in '85 according to the Bat Cats' coach. Six-foot-two, 188-pound freshman Dan Eskew should also be a force in UK's starting rotation. The right-handed, first-year product from Nashville, Tenn., was very highly recruited and has an exceptionally strong arm. Seniors Jeff Hellman, who tried out for the '84 Olympic team, and ironman Chris Carroll are also figured to be starting hurlers for UK.
If Carroll, a reliever the last three seasons, doesn't start then he will rejoin the Wildcats' bullpen crew.
Said Madison, "There's still a chance we are going to use him (Carroll) in relief this year, but we're also going to give him a chance as a starter. If we do that it means that we'll probably use Jack Savage in close ball games and short relief situations.
Madison seems to have a lot of faith in Savage's arm -- with last year's performances, any coach would.
UK's head mentor pointed out that against SEC foes Georgia (twice) and Tennessee last spring, Savage, a 6-1, 185-pound reliever, came in and took the bat out of opponents' hands during pressure situations.
"He's got a very good arm, throws hard, and he's got good control, said Madison about Savage. "He's a guy we have confidence in . . .we know that he can handle pressure."
Even though this squad is expected to hit for the good average, pressure may be riding on the shoulders of power-hitters Randy Clark and Jim Leyritz. Clark, UK's cleanup batter, blasted 20 homers last year, while Leyritz, a Junior College transfer, brings to the ballclub the long ball threat.
"I think we're more of 'hitting for an average' type team overall, said Madison. "The only guys on our team that have any proven power are Randy Clark and Jim Leyritz. The rest of the guys are going to hit with occasional power but not consistently. But I expect our hitters to do a good job of getting on base and hitting for an average so that Jimmy and Randy can drive them in."
If the 'Cats can get on base consistently then that will allow Madison and his staff to insert another offensive dimension -- speed.
"We've got very good overall speed," Madison said in a positive tone of voice. "We have (Terry) Shumpert (second base), who has very good base-stealing speed, and a junior college transfer from Kansas City Community College -- Russ Schueler (outfield). He has great speed and he'll probably be the guy that you'll look for to steal a lot of bases this year. He'll be our leadoff hitter. Kevin Gothard (outfield) has very good speed. Most of the other players that will start will have either average or above average college speed.
"That's something we're kinda proud of."
Besides on offense UK can use their quickness to its defensive advantage as well.
"With Gothard, Schueler, and Clint Arnold . . .we should have a fast outfield," commented Madison. "That will help us."
Many of the starting defensive assignments in UK's infield have not yet been determined, because of the Cats added depth.
Only Leyritz (third base) and Rick Campbell (shortstop) appear to have their positions locked up for the opener. Madison mentioned that Shumpert, as of the last week, has a slight edge at second base over sophomore Rodney Martin.
Madison said of Shumpert and Martin, "Both of those guys are excellent fielders, they're super defensively. . .those guys can really turn a double play and are very solid there."
When Clark's not playing first base then Jim Murphy, a Pearl River JC transfer, will occupy the busy spot. If Murphy is inked into the starting lineup at first, look for Clark to be positioned in the outfield.
Controlling the pitchers will be either junior Greg Stephens or freshman Robbie Buchanan. "They're our top two catchers," said Madison. "Both of those guys have strong arms. Greg, especially does a good job of handling pitchers.
'75 Playoff Smiles Are A Probability In '85
"I think defensively we're going to be a pretty solid ballclub."
If the pitching can come through, then look for this club to be in the thick of the SEC race throughout the '85 campaign. And maybe, just maybe, UK will move on to bigger and better things.
"We feel like our pitching is going to come through, because Savage had a very good year last season," stated Madison. "Ray has won 18 games in three years and could go down as one of the winningest all-time pitchers in UK history. I feel like he's possibly the best right-handed pitcher in the SEC this year. We feel very good about our pitching and our pitching depth.
"Speed is going to be a plus for us. And I feel Randy Clark (All-SEC and all South District last year) and Jim Leyritz have broad enough shoulders to carry the hitting load.
"I'm pleased with the talent we have. This group of players (seniors) have yet to prove themselves though. I've always thought that they were a talented group of players. They've got a lot of things to prove this year, not only to the Kentucky fans, but to themselves. I feel very good that they're going to respond to that in a positive way. If they do, we'll have a very good year."
Sounds like the Bat Cats are in for an exciting year at the ole ballpark.
(Continued on Page 22)