UK baseball players and coaches aren’t mincing words about being passed over as a NCAA Tournament regional host.
“I think the same thing you do: I think we got screwed,” said UK head coach Gary Henderson. “That’s just what it is.”
“Apparently with the way the system works, I’m just excited we got into the tournament,” said junior catcher Luke Maile. “We get a chance to play baseball next week, that’s all I know about it.”
The NCAA released the identities of the 16 regional hosts on Sunday without UK’s name on the list despite a 43-16 record and 20-13 record against Southeastern Conference opponents. On Monday, the Wildcats learned they would be the No. 2 seed in the Gary, Ind., regional and will face Kent State in the first round. Purdue is the No. 1 seed in the regional but is hosting in Gary due to ongoing renovations to their home stadium. Valparaiso is the No. 4 seed in the regional.
“I know the people that are in baseball that actually play the game are pretty dumbfounded,” Maile said. “Obviously those aren’t the people that make the decisions.”
“It was a shock. Even if you kind of crunch the numbers, it still is,” said UK junior left-handed pitcher Taylor Rogers. “We’re going to do the best with what we’ve got. I think we’ve got a pretty good deal up there in Indiana.”
UK was ranked No. 14 in the RPI according to WarrenNolan.com, but the Wildcats were hurt by a strength of schedule ranked No. 43 in the country. UK was 13-13 versus the RPI top 50, and 17-14 against the RPI top 100. The Wildcats were 6-3 versus the three SEC schools that received national seeds (Florida, LSU and South Carolina) on the season and finished one win from a share of the SEC regular-season championship.
Miami earned the final hosting spot that most prognosticators thought would go to the Wildcats. In the ESPNU selection show special Monday, Selection Committee Chairman Kyle Kallander said the choice for the final regional site was not necessarily between just UK and Miami.
“It was who should be in that top 16 and who shouldn’t be,” he told ESPNU. “It’s always difficult to compare institutions from different conferences. When you got to the No. 1 (seeds), they’re outstanding teams from outstanding conferences.
“We really focused a lot on what they did non-conference wise. Nonconference strength of schedule was probably the difference as we looked at wether Kentucky should get that No. 1 seed.”
That argument doesn’t hold up to the Wildcats.
“I think that is just flat-out wrong,” Maile said. “If you line our nonconference schedule up with a lot of teams that are in this, that’s just an inaccurate statement. It’s not even a debate.”
“Our nonconference schedule is not drastically different than several others in our league,” Henderson said. “They’re not exactly the same. You make those things out two years in advance. You don’t know what you’re going to get. One year somebody is good, the next year they’re young. I don’t apologize for any of our nonconference schedule.”
Just three of the UK nonconference opponents — Louisville, Indiana and South Carolina Upstate — are ranked in the RPI top 100, but the Wildcats played 21 games against the RPI top 26 in conference play.
Henderson wants more clarity from the selection committee.
“You’d like to know what the real motivations are, what the real criteria are,” he said. “There are so many general, vague, hollow things that they throw out that you never are really able to put your finger on anything.”
Regardless of the factors that led UK to Gary, Ind., next week, the Wildcats know they must move past the disappointment of being passed over as a regional host.
“You’ve got to show up and play well,” Henderson said. “If you expect to win in these weekends, you have to play well.”
“Obviously, we’ve got to get over the disappointment if we want to do what we want to do,” Rogers said. “We’ve got to get into one pitch at a time up there.”
Henderson and players noted that by being picked to play in the Gary, Ind., regional there is still an opportunity for fans to drive from Lexington for the games.
“It gives a chance for everybody’s families to come see us,” Rogers said.
“I’m glad that our fans can get in a car and drive to Gary, Ind.,” Henderson said. “Certainly, you’ve be happy about that. We’ll get some support up there. They don’t have to jump into an airplane.”
Fans that make the trip to Gary, Ind., can expect to see a team using the perceived disrespect as motivation moving forward.
“Apparently we have a lot to prove right now,” Maile said. “We were going to try to win a regional championship anyway, so it doesn’t change anything. We just have to play in a different location.”
“I think we kind of play with a chip on our shoulder a little bit,” Rogers said. “Now that this happened, we may play with a couple chips on our shoulder. Not a good way to say it, but I think that’s kind of the way we feel.”
You can see the full bracket here.
KyForward file photo