Monday, May 14, 2012
UK baseball embarks on long road trip
with goals of winning championship in sight
When the UK baseball team returns to Lexington it could be doing so as Southeastern Conference champions.
The Wildcats, who lead the SEC with four games remaining in the regular season, embark on what could be a two-week road trip Tuesday. After facing Murray State University in Paducah Tuesday night, the Wildcats will travel directly to Starkville, Miss., for a three-game series beginning Thursday. The team will head to Hoover, Ala., from Starkville for the SEC Tournament.
“It didn’t make sense on the front end when I looked at it to come home,” said UK head coach Gary Henderson. “It just made sense to go over. It could be long. We hope it’s really long, a couple weeks long.”
At 41-11 and 18-9 in conference play, UK sits one-half game ahead of South Carolina in the SEC standings. LSU also has a chance at the league crown at one game behind the Wildcats.
While UK will be facing seventh-place Mississippi State this weekend, South Carolina and LSU will square off against each other. In addition to an SEC title, UK is playing for a top eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would allow the Wildcats to host a regional and super regional if they advance that far.
Henderson isn’t spending too much time talking to his players about the stakes they are playing for this weekend.
“They’re all smart,” he said. “They all have a smart phone. They all get to the website They know the math. They’re not going to need me to explain a lot to them, but they’re going to need me to provide a little perspective to them, which I will.”
That perspective appears to have already taken hold with junior catcher Luke Maile.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to take it one day at a time and keep trying to win baseball games,” he said. “If we do that, everything is going to work out.”
UK is ranked No. 4 in the Baseball America top 25 released Monday, but still ranks behind conference opponents South Carolina (No. 2) and Florida (No. 3). The SEC has four teams ranked in the top nine in the poll, meaning they may beat up on each other in the quest for one of the eight national seeds.
Finishing first or second in the SEC would bring a bye in the SEC Tournament for UK, but Henderson is more concerned with the way his team is playing as the regular season ends.
“The bye is important,” he said. “There’s not a coach that wouldn’t take it. I think it’s important, but probably more important to me is finishing out the last four regular season games and the then all of it in Birmingham and see if we can jump into a top eight seed.”
Regardless of where the Wildcats end up in the NCAA tournament seeding, the long road trip to end the season could help the team focus in time for postseason play, Maile said.
“I think we have a big advantage with the fact that we love playing with each other,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this road trip for a long time, and we were really hoping we could go on this thing with an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done here in a while or hasn’t been done here at all. We’re excited, and we can’t wait for it.”