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May 2, 2012

Baseball tries to rebound from 1-3 week, prepares for Florida

Thursday will mark the fifth time this season the UK baseball team has squared off in a series against a top-10 opponent. They're used to it by now.

But for the first time this year, they're entering a series coming off a rough patch. After losing two of three against unranked Vanderbilt a week ago, the Wildcats will look to rebound against Florida.

Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson said his team's attitude has been consistent all year. From the preseason, when they were unranked, to their race to the top of the polls and the Southeastern Conference, not much has changed with his players. He's hoping that's still the case this weekend.

"The message doesn't change," Henderson said. "Thursday is the biggest game of the year. Then Friday will be the biggest game. Then Saturday will be. Then the next series will be the biggest game of the year. The message stays the same."

Florida, (33-12, 12-9 SEC) ranked seventh in the country, enters the series with designs on taking over first place in the SEC East. The No. 3 Wildcats (36-9, 14-7 SEC) have the same conference record as South Carolina, but hold the tiebreaker thanks to a three-game sweep over the Gamecocks earlier in the year in Lexington.

The Gators dealt with a rash of injuries earlier this year, but Henderson said they're healthy now. Florida dropped two of three at home to Arkansas last weekend, but Kentucky has lost three of four. The Wildcats lost 10-2 at Louisville on April 24.

"(Florida is) really experienced," Henderson said. "They've got some good balance left and right. They've got real power in more than one guy. When you have as much experience and skill as they have, they're a tough club."

The Cats are also contending with finals week, which concludes on Friday. Henderson said that will change the Wildcats' preparations for this week more than the shift from a Friday-Sunday series to a Thursday-Saturday schedule.

With just three SEC series' left before the conference tournament begins, Henderson said his young team is already past the point where fatigue can be an issue.

"I think they're almost getting that second shot that you usually see," he said. "The knowledge that we're going to get to play a little bit more is good for those guys and their mental health. I think you're seeing them get past it. I know we're going to feel better after the weekend is over, or maybe Friday afternoon when they're done with their tests."

Florida will have a say in that, though. Both teams are trying to recover from series losses and make a move in the conference race.

"We're either the last club or the second to last club in the country to lose a weekend series," Henderson said. "They don't give any awards for that, but it speaks to how the kids have handled it. They've done a good job. We have enough experience and leadership to not go over the edge."

Gott, Maile named to watch list

Sophomore closer Trevor Gott and junior catcher Luke Maile were named to the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Watch List on Tuesday. The award is given annually to the top amateur baseball player in the country.

"Those are nice things, but they haven't received any awards," Henderson said. "They're just on a watch list, which is great and you're happy for them. Proud of them. But our group, I think, will continue to do a good job of keeping those things in perspective. It's nice to be recognized, but nothing has been accomplished."

Maile is hitting .329 and leads the team with 11 home runs and 43 RBI. Gott is 1-0 with a 3.07 ERA and has saved eight games in nine chances this season. He has struck out 22 batters in 14.2 innings this season.

Florida led the nation with four players named to the 60-man watch list.

No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Florida

Thursday, May 3, 7:30 p.m.
Jr., LHP Taylor Rogers (5-2, 4.84 ERA) vs. Jr., RHP Hudson Randall (4-1, 3.46 ERA)
TV: ESPNU
Radio: 630 AM Lexington, 1080 AM Louisville
Friday, May 4, 7 p.m.
Jr., LHP Jerad Grundy (4-1, 4.29 ERA) vs. So., RHP Karsten Whitson (3-0, 3.86 ERA)
TV: CSS
Radio: 630 AM Lexington, 1080 AM Louisville
Saturday, May 5, 2 p.m.
So., LHP Corey Littrell (6-0, 2.44 ERA) vs. Jr., LHP Brian Johnson (5-3, 4.50 ERA)
TV: Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports
Radio: 630 AM Lexington, 1080 AM Louisville


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