Series preview: Kentucky

NO. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA (18-1, 2-1) at KENTUCKY (15-6, 1-2)
When: Friday: 6:30 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.
Where: Cliff Hagan Stadium
Tickets: Available at the box office
TV: Friday: none. Saturday: FOX Sports South. Sunday: ESPN3.
Series: South Carolina leads 44-32.
Last meeting: USC won 3-1 in Columbia on April 21, 2013.
Probable starting pitchers:
South Carolina
Friday: Jr. LHP Jordan Montgomery (3-1, 3.14 ERA, 28.2 IP, 11 BB, 30 K)
Saturday: So. LHP Jack Wynkoop (4-0, 1.84 ERA, 29.1 IP, 3 BB, 25 K)
Sunday: Fr. RHP Wil Crowe (4-0, 1.10 ERA, 32.2 IP, 4 BB, 23 K)
Friday: Jr. LHP A.J. Reed (3-1, 1.91 ERA, 33.0 IP, 13 BB, 20 K)
Saturday: Jr. RHP Chandler Shepherd (4-0, 2.41 ERA, 33.2 IP, 6 BB, 26 K)
Sunday: Jr. RHP Andrew Nelson (1-0, 1.99 ERA, 22.2 IP, 2 BB, 14 K)
Notes: Kentucky opened SEC play last week winning one of three games at Alabama. Kentucky defeated Western Kentucky on Tuesday 10-3 in non-conference action at Cliff Hagan Stadium … Kentucky leads the SEC with a .323 batting average (241-for-746) at the plate
as well as 18 homers, a .433 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage. Senior catcher Michael Thomas is the team's leading hitter at .431 (28-for-65) with three homers and 24 RBI. Junior pitcher/first baseman A.J. Reed is one of the top power hitters in the country with a .403 average (29-for-72) with nine homers and 31 RBI. Junior center fielder Austin Cousino is also hitting .409 (38-for-93) with 28 runs scored, nine doubles, two triples and a pair of homers … Reed is the probable starter on the mound on Friday night. He is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 33.0 innings pitched. Junior right-hander Chandler Shepherd is expected to start on Saturday. He is 4-0 with a 2.41 ERA in 33.2 innings with 26 strikeouts and six walks.
After this weekend in Lexington, Ky., there will be a new No. 1 - and I'm not talking about the rankings.
Yes, No. 1 South Carolina will put its lofty national ranking on the line against unranked Kentucky in a series the Gamecocks have won just once in Lexington in the past decade (2009).
But also on the line are the lofty rankings both teams carry in the country's statistical categories: South Carolina has the nation's best pitching staff (1.36 ERA), while Kentucky has the nation's best scoring average (9.7 runs per game). The Wildcats also have the SEC's best batting average at .322, good for No. 11 in the nation, though USC isn't far behind at .315, good for 15th-best in the country and No. 2 in the SEC.
The nation's top stingiest staff versus the nation's best run-scorers? Yes please, more please, let's play now please.
"Obviously this is our first SEC road series traveling to a place where historically, at least since I've been here, we haven't played well," USC coach Chad Holbrook said. "They're good again. They obviously beat the preseason No. 1 team (Virginia, 8-3) in the first game of the year and you look at their line-up offensively and it's pretty scary - six hitters over .300, five over .333.
"So our pitchers are going to have their work cut out for them. We're going to have to pitch very, very well. I don't know if we can match them offensively, so hopefully our pitchers will be able to keep us in the game."
Reed, the Wildcats' starter on Friday night, is also one of the team's top hitters and plays first base when he's not pitching. He's batting .403 with a team-high nine home runs and 31 RBI, while on the mound he's the staff ace with a 3-1 record and team-leading 1.91 ERA in 33 innings pitched.
"Reed obviously is a Team USA guy," Holbrook said. "He's one of the better players in the country both as an offensive player and as a pitcher. We have our work cut out for us."
Though Kentucky dropped it's first road series at Alabama, the Wildcats are good at Cliff Hagan Stadium where they have a 9-1 record this year. The only loss was a 10-9 setback to VMI the third game of the season.
"They play very well at home," Holbrook said. "We're going to have to play well to be able to have some success this weekend.
"They were a pitch or two away from winning two out of three (at Alabama) on Sunday. I think they would probably tell you they had that game won. It's a very similar team to when we went up there in 2012 and they swept us. I have a lot of guys on (our) bus who experienced that. Hopefully, that experience will get their attention and (they'll) know that they need to play well because Kentucky is awfully good.
"They're an NCAA Tournament team no doubt and they have two of the more dynamic players in country, (Reed and outfielder Austin Cousino), two first-team All-Americans, in my book. It's a huge challenge for us."
Injury outlook: Holbrook said having the game at The Citadel on Tuesday postponed until April 16 was good in that it gave Max Schrock and Joey Pankake more time to heal. Both should be close to 100 percent this weekend, Holbrook said.
WHAT TO WATCH: Montgomery and Wynkoop. Montgomery has had two very un-Monty-like starts in his last three outings. While good against Brown, Montgomery allowed seven hits and six runs in 5.1 innings against Clemson and six hits and six runs in six innings pitched against Ole Miss a week ago. He didn't get a decision in the Clemson game and took the loss against Ole Miss. In his last start, Wynkoop got tagged by Ole Miss to the tune of four runs on seven hits in three innings. Both need to bounce back in a big way if the Gamecocks are going to claim this series.
SEC Standings
Eastern Division
South Carolina 2-1, 18-1
Tennessee 2-1, 18-2
Vanderbilt 2-1, 19-3
Florida 2-1, 14-7
Kentucky 1-2, 15-6
Georgia 1-2, 14-8
Missouri 1-2, 11-9
Western Division
Alabama 2-1, 14-6
Auburn 2-1, 15-7
Mississippi State 2-1, 15-8
Ole Miss 1-2, 18-4
LSU 1-2, 18-4
Texas A&M 1-2, 15-7
Arkansas 1-2, 11-7
League games this weekend:
*Alabama at Arkansas 7:35 p.m.
*Auburn at Tennessee 6 p.m.
*Florida at Texas A&M 7:35 p.m.
*Georgia at LSU [CST] 8 p.m.
*South Carolina at Kentucky 6:30 p.m.
*Missouri at Ole Miss 7:30 p.m.
*Vanderbilt at Miss. State [#-CSS] 7:30 p.m.
*Alabama at Arkansas 3:05 p.m.
*Auburn at Tennessee [#-CSS] 4 p.m.
*Florida at Texas A&M 3:05 p.m.
*Georgia at LSU [CST] 7:30 p.m.
*S. Carolina at Kentucky [#-FSN] 2 p.m.
*Missouri at Ole Miss 2:30 p.m.
*Vanderbilt at Miss. State [#-ESPNU] 8:30 p.m.
*Alabama at Arkansas [CST] 2:05 p.m.
*Auburn at Tennessee 2 p.m.
*Florida at Texas A&M 2:05 p.m.
*Georgia at LSU 1 p.m.
*South Carolina at Kentucky 1 p.m.
*Missouri at Ole Miss 2:30 p.m.
*Vanderbilt at Mississippi State 2:30 p.m.
TV codes:
FSN - Fox Sports South, Sun Sports, Fox Sports
Southwest, Fox Sports Houston
SPSO - SportSouth, Sun Sports, Fox Sports
Southwest, Fox Sports Houston
CSS - Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast
SUN - Sun Sports
FSFL - Fox Sports Florida
CST - Cox Sports Television
FSSO - Fox Sports South (FS South)
CBSSN - CBS Sports Network
# - Available on WatchESPN/ESPN3

Want to go inside the Gamecock athletics program? In-depth scoop/insight on football, recruiting, hoops and baseball on our subscribers-only Insiders Forum