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Sports Notes: Former Wildcat, Mr. Baseball Riddle makes successful return to Bluegrass

Former Mr. Baseball J.T. Riddle made a successful return to Lexington, helping Greensboro sweep three games from the Legends (Photo from UK Athletics)

Former Mr. Baseball J.T. Riddle made a successful return to Lexington, helping Greensboro sweep three games from the Legends (Photo from UK Athletics)


When former Kentucky Mr. Baseball J.T. Riddle took the field last week against the Lexington Legends, it marked his first professional appearance in Lexington since May 2013, when he played in Kentucky’s mid-week win over Indiana.

Although Riddle undoubtedly wished he had cranked out a few more basehits, by any measure the return of the Frankfort native and Western Hills High School product was a success. He started all three games for Greensboro, playing third base in the first contest and shortstop in the other two. He batted leadoff in all three games, getting 14 plate appearances, four hits, two runs, three RBI and mixing in a pair of triples. Greensboro won all three games.

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Perhaps just as important as his appearance on the field was the fact that he could play in front of friends, family, former teammates and coaches. Over 200 Riddle supporters attended the games, many sporting Greensboro Grasshoppers shirts with his name emblazoned across the back. Riddle and his supporters must be popular with the tee shirt vendors.

After signing with the Miami Marlins in the 2013 draft, Riddle spent his first professional season in the New York-Penn League, playing in 59 games and hitting .243 with 10 doubles, two homers and 18 RBI. He earned a promotion to Greensboro, where he is currently batting .264 with four homers and 33 runs batted in.

He was on a 10-game hitting streak before going 0-for-5 in the middle game of the Legends’ series. He was 4-for-9 in the other two games.

Maybe best of all, the Grasshoppers have gotten off to a 13-5 start for the second half of the South Atlantic League race and are tied for first place in the Northern Division.

A 6-foot-3 left-handed hitter, Riddle had a stellar career for the Wildcats from 2011-13, playing in 168 games as a middle infielder with a batting average of .283. He had 28 doubles, three triples, nine homers and 83 RBI while stealing 16 bases.

With six UK players drafted or signed to professional contracts this year, the baseball program now has a record 39 players playing pro ball during the six-year tenure of head coach Gary Henderson.

When Kentucky announced its non-conference men’s basketball schedule last week, much was made over the number of slots occupied by some of the nation’s winningest and most storied programs. The Cats will face the likes of Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA and Louisville all before New Year’s Eve.

Almost lost in the shuffle was a Nov. 16 matchup with little-known Buffalo, one of four games that comprise the newly named Cawood Ledford Classic. The other participants are Grand Canyon, Montana State, and Texas-Arlington.

Buffalo’s connection to UK fans comes in the form of its head coach, former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley. Hurley, of course, played on the 1992 team that defeated UK 104-103 in overtime on the infamous Christian Laettner jump shot as time expired. That loss, of course, cost Kentucky a spot in the Final Four.

Wonder how many fans remember that Hurley had 22 points and 10 assists in that game? He also had five baskets from behind the three-point stripe in a game that would prove to be the last in the illustrious career of Ledford, UK’s longtime radio voice.

A lot of buzz was created recently when ESPN released its list of the country’s best men’s college basketball coaches. Many fans, particularly those in the Bluegrass, were surprised to say the least when Billy Donovan of Florida was revealed as the No. 1 selection, trailed by the Cats’ John Calipari.

The top five was completed by Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino of Louisville.

Of course, when media outlets release subjective rankings, the whole point is to generate attention for themselves. The easiest way to do that is to 1) include a lot of names and teams and 2) come up with a surprising or mildly controversial result. ESPN managed to do both very nicely. How else to explain so much discussion of college basketball in the midst of the World Cup, Wimbledon, the Tour de France and pre-training camp NFL? Oh, and it’s baseball season.

Eamonn Brennan, who wrote the story for ESPN.com, explained it this way: unmatched recent success and overcoming adversity.

“In October, the Gators were beset by injuries, illnesses and personnel problems,” he wrote. “At the start of the season, the Gators had seven scholarship players available to practice. Within a few months, a team that could have been an abject disaster was instead one of Donovan’s best.”

Florida would post an 18-0 record in SEC play, go 36-3 overall, and grab the No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. The Gators advanced to the Final Four before being upset by Connecticut.

“Donovan hasn’t missed an NCAA tournament in five years,” Brennan wrote. “In the past four, his teams haven’t missed the Elite Eight. By the fourth straight trip, this spring, the Gators didn’t much feel like talking about that streak; they just wanted to move on. But it was an accomplishment in and of itself — a measure of the steady hand with which Florida basketball is led.”

Final notes: Richard Pitino was ranked No. 49 on the list, 10 spots ahead of Tubby Smith. Larry Brown was No. 21, Roy Williams No. 16 and UCONN’s Kevin Ollie was No. 10. To see the entire poll, CLICK HERE.

In case you missed it, former Wildcat Julius Randle won’t require surgery to have a screw removed from his right ankle. He has been cleared by the Los Angeles Lakers’ medical team to begin play immediately. He is not currently playing on the Lakers’ summer league team since he has yet to sign a contract.

Fellow first-round pick James Young is also being held out of summer league action with the Boston Celtics after suffering a whiplash and concussion-like symptoms in an automobile accident shorting before the NBA draft. The Celtics recently said Young would be held out of all games this summer as a precaution.

Morehead State junior pitcher Matt Ellenbest has been named to the East Division team for the Prospect League All-Star Game, which is scheduled for this week in Terre Haute, Ind. Ellenbest, who plays for the Lorain County (Ohio) Ironmen, leads the summer circuit with seven saves. He he tossed 10.2 innings, struck out eight and has a team-best 1.68 ERA.

Three other Eagles – Brandon Rawe, Chris Robinson and Craig Pearcy – have been selected to the Coastal Plain Summer Baseball League West Division All-Star Team. That game will be played Monday at Big Rock Stadium in Morehead City, N.C.

Robinson, a catcher, and Pearcy, a relief pitcher, are members of the Gastonia (N.C.) Grizzlies. Rawe, an outfielder, plays for the Florence (S.C.) RedWolves. Rawe and Robinson earned enough fan votes to be in the starting lineup.

Robinson, who was named Second-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference in 2014, has batted .348 with five doubles and 15 RBI in 25 games for the Grizzlies, who are 19-12. Robinson ranked second on MSU’s team with 75 hits this past season.

Pearcy ranks second in the CPL with eight saves, the same number he recorded during the 2014 season for the Eagles. For Gastonia, he has notched 15 strikeouts in just 10 innings and has a 1.74 ERA. He managed a 5-2 record in 23 appearances with a squad-best 3.38 ERA for MSU this year.

Also earning a spot in the CPL All-Star game is Eastern Kentucky University outfielder Kyle Nowlin, who will play for the West All-Stars.

Through 30 games for the Martinsville Mustangs in the summer wooden bat league, Nowlin is batting .294 with 25 runs, 19 RBIs, 14 walks and a .385 on-base percentage. The Harrison, Ohio native has successfully stole six bases in seven attempts. Nowlin ranks second in the Coastal Plain League in runs and is tied for third with nine doubles.

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