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May 21, 2012

Postseason a fresh start for slumping Cats

The No. 11 Kentucky baseball team had a chance to claim a Southeastern Conference title last weekend, but the Wildcats couldn't finish.

This week at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., the Wildcats get a fresh start.

UK will look to bounce back in the tournament's opening game against Ole Miss Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at Regions Park.

Kentucky (41-15, 18-12 SEC) needed a win against Mississippi State Saturday to secure the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, but after falling 11-3, the Wildcats dropped to the No. 4 seed.

It marks the Cats' first SEC Tournament appearance since 2008.

"Ole Miss has a good club, good balance of left and right," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "When we played, it was tight games. We could have won all three if we got a check swing (call), and they could have won all three if the calls at the plate were different."

UK took two of three against the Rebels in early April, but Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco agrees with Henderson that the series was evenly played.

"It was a pretty even series," he said. "But they are as well rounded as any team that plays in the Southeastern Conference as far as offense, on the mound, and the way they defend."

UK has lost seven of its last nine games away from Lexington.

"Obviously we lost four in a row so we're excited to get back on the field again and get rid of that streak," Henderson said. "We are looking forward to getting to playing again. We've practiced the last two days and it's been really good. We won't know until we start playing, but we have a resilient group."

And though his team fumbled its chance to win only Kentucky's second conference championship in school history, Henderson believes his team will avoid dwelling on the past.

"It was a disappointing weekend in Starkville, but in our league you don't have much time to cry about those weekends," Henderson said. "You have to get on to the next one, and that's what we have to do."

UK is no stranger to the SEC Tournament, qualifying 14 times in school history, but the Cats aren't familiar with success in Hoover, Ala.

Kentucky has never finished better than fifth-place and has a .363 win percentage in conference tournament games.

This is the first season the SEC Tournament will include 10 teams, instead of the usual eight. That's in preparation for next season, when the 14-team SEC will send its top 10 teams to the postseason tournament.

"I think the move to 10 is good; that's where we want to be in the future when we expand the conference," Henderson said. "Glad we're doing it; it gets more teams involved this week."

If the Cats beat No.9 seed Ole Miss Tuesday, they'll get a day off and could play conference champion Louisiana State, Arkansas, or Mississippi State on Thursday. UK won the season series against LSU and Arkansas.

In the event of a loss, UK will play the loser of Arkansas and Mississippi State in an elimination game and would have to win five consecutive games to win the SEC Tournament.

UK will throw freshman middle reliever A.J. Reed (4-2, 3.00 ERA), while Ole Miss will pitch ace Bobby Wahl (6-2, 2.20 ERA).

UK will save its weekend starters for later in the tournament, and Henderson will pitch Reed as long as he can go.

"We certainly won't be managing A.J.'s pitch count," Henderson said. "He will pitch as long as he's getting people out and as soon as he doesn't we'll go get him."


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