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June 3, 2012Kentucky's baseball season ended Sunday with a 3-2 loss to Kent State in the NCAA Tournament's Gary (Ind.) Regional.
But that season followed a script that few foresaw.
The Wildcats entered the season with coach Gary Henderson's job status in serious doubt. But in winning 22 straight games to start the season, reaching its first-ever No. 1 national ranking and setting a school record for single-season wins, UK (45-18) defied expectations.
Henderson has one season remaining on his UK contract. But the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year is likely to have a new one soon.
"I told Gary a couple weeks ago that we're working on some stuff and we'll see if we can get some stuff done," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said last week at the SEC Meetings in Destin, Fla. "Hopefully we'll get that pulled together sooner rather than later."
The Wildcats were a team that found ways to win games they weren't supposed to, and that trend continued in Gary. After dropping a 7-6, 21-inning marathon against Kent State on Friday, Kentucky rallied to beat Valparaiso 8-1 on Saturday, then knock off host Purdue 6-3 on Sunday afternoon.
But the Cats' bats never quite mastered Golden Flashes pitching, and Kent State again solved Kentucky Sunday night. KSU's Evan Campbell was the difference-maker, hitting a three-run home run in the top of the eighth that gave the Golden Flashes a 3-0 lead.
The Wildcats posted two runs in the bottom of the eighth but went down in order in the ninth, their season ending on Zac Zellers' fly ball to right field.
As Kent State (44-17) advances to a Super Regional, the Wildcats turn to their offseason. This week's Major League Draft likely will play a part in the look of next season's team. At least four Cats - outfield Brian Adams, pitcher Jerad Grundy, catcher/infielder Luke Maile and pitcher Taylor Rogers - are likely to be selected in the draft, and others, including Zellers, could have a shot.
UK also loses three seniors in third baseman Thomas McCarthy, pitcher Alex Phillips and catcher Michael Williams.
But ace pitcher Corey Littrell, whose win against Purdue Sunday afternoon improved him to 9-2, will return for his junior season, and the Wildcats have a core of young players around whom to build, including center fielder Austin Cousino, the SEC Freshman of the Year
And it's safe to expect the return of Henderson, who replaced John Cohen in 2008 and this season reached his first NCAA Tournament.
"Gary is representative of the kind of person we want at Kentucky," Barnhart said. "I was just talking to our president (Eli Capilouto) about how I couldn't be happier for a person than Gary. He is great people; he and (wife) Vicky are wonderful. (Henderson's 9-year-old son) Ty is hilarious. It's a great family to have at our ballpark and we really, really enjoy them."