Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Florida represents latest chance for Wildcats
to prove themselves on national stage
The UK baseball players have proven adept at keeping a level head as more accolades rolled in during a streak of 10 consecutive series wins to start the season.
On Thursday the Wildcats will see if they are equally adept at dealing with failure after dropping their first series of the season at Vanderbilt on Sunday.
“We’ve got enough experience and enough leadership to not go over the edge because you lost a series,” said UK head coach Gary Henderson. “I think that they’re handling things well.”
On Monday, UK dropped to No. 3 in the Baseball America top 25 after a 1-3 week that including two losses to Vanderbilt and a midweek loss to Louisville. The Wildcats welcome preseason No. 1 Florida, now ranked No. 7 by Baseball America, to Lexington for a three-game series that opens Thursday. The series opener will be televised nationally by ESPNU as the weekly Southeastern Conference game of the week.
“If you win on TV, or play well on TV even, it can help you in recruiting,” Henderson said. “It helps familiarity in our region certainly. It’s just good for the kids, good for the experience and good for the program as a whole.”
While UK will look to rebound from its first series loss of the season, the Gators represent a tough task, Henderson said.
“When you have that much experience and as many skill guys as they have, they’re a tough club,” he said. “They’ve had some injury issues that have slowed them down a little bit, but they’re getting past that. They’re just a really talented, really experienced club.”
If matchup with the Gators we’re not difficult enough on its own, the UK players face the added stress from final exams this week.
“It changes your routine a little bit, it creates a little bit of stress,” Henderson said. “It’s not that big of a deal, but it changes things a little bit. I think our guys will handle it well.”
The series versus Florida represents the final test before the post-semester stretch drive in which UK will try to close out a SEC championship. The Wildcats are tied with South Carolina and LSU with a 14-7 record at the top of the SEC standings, but they hold the head-to-head tie breaker with both schools.
After facing Florida, UK has a home series with Alabama and a road series at Mississippi State remaining on the schedule before playing in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., at the end of the month.
In addition to a SEC championship, the Wildcats are playing for the right to host a NCAA Tournament regional and to secure one of the eight national seeds in the tournament.
Henderson is confident his team can continue to perform well as pressure of achieving those goals mounts.
“We’re either the last club or the second-to-last team in the country to lose a weekend series,” he said. “They don’t give you any awards for that, but I think it just speaks to how the kids have handled (the pressure). They’ve done a good job.”
Part of the key to dealing with that pressure is approaching every game the same, Henderson said, noting his message hasn’t changed after the loss to Vanderbilt.
“The message doesn’t change,” he said. “Thursday is the biggest game of the year, then Friday will be the biggest game. Then Saturday will be. The next series will be the biggest game of the year.”