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May 23, 2012On Tuesday, the Kentucky baseball team ended its four-game losing skid, and on Thursday, it will look to start a winning streak.
The Wildcats will meet Mississippi State Thursday at approximately 2 p.m. ET at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
For UK, it's a chance to square off against a team that swept it out of a regular-season conference title shot last weekend. The Bulldogs took three games from the Wildcats in Starkville, Miss., to drop the UK out of title contention and into the tournament's No. 4 seed.
The Cats bounced back from that disappointment to beat Ole Miss 2-0 in Tuesday's SEC Tournament opener.
"Anytime you're in competitive athletics and you have something on the line at the end of the season, there's going to be some internal pressure and stress," UK coach Gary Henderson said. "The kids clearly fell a little bit and once you get past the disappointment of the weekend and you get down to the postseason part of it, hopefully you can relax and realize you're playing for different goals at that point. I think that's what we've done."
No Cat rallied more than A.J. Reed, whose do-everything performance boosted Kentucky to a win Tuesday.
Reed pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and went 4-for-4 at the plate, including a long home run. It was Reed's first start on the mound since April 10, and he broke out of a 3-for-22 slump at the plate.
That stretch dropped Reed to the bottom of the lineup, but Henderson never lost faith in the 6-foot-4, 230-pound freshman.
"At no point in time did I think A.J. was done hitting," Henderson said. "But it was clear the game had become tougher for him, but that's to be expected. It happens with every freshman."
UK's win gave the Cats a day's rest before Thursday's game against Mississippi State, which upset conference champion LSU on Wednesday. The Bulldogs and Cats are the only two unbeaten teams in bracket one.
UK brought in ace Taylor Rogers to relieve Reed in the sixth inning and Henderson doesn't expect Rogers to start Thursday against Mississippi State, though he didn't rule out the chance of Rogers coming in relief again.
A win on Thursday would move UK into the SEC semifinals against either Mississippi State, Ole Miss, or LSU on Saturday. A loss would send UK to an elimination game against the winner of Thursday's Ole Miss-LSU winner.
Henderson's hope is that his team will follow Reed's performance against Ole Miss and make a deep postseason run.
"It was a big win for us, what we do now is take advantage of it," Henderson said. "That's what we're going to hope to do, take advantage of the boost A.J. gave us and make the most of it."