LOUISVILLE - Only one opponent this season has managed to beat the Kentucky baseball team twice. And rival Louisville has made it look easy.
The 22nd-ranked Cardinals rode a six-run third inning Tuesday night to roll past the top-ranked Wildcats 10-2 in front of a season-high 3,862 fans at Jim Patterson Stadium.
U of L beat UK 12-0 on April 10 in Lexington.
"It wasn't the exact same game (as the first meeting); the dynamic was different," UK catcher Luke Maile said. "Baseball is all about the basics and (U of L) has done the basics better than us both times we've played them. That's all there is to it."
Just two days after taking the rubber match of a three-game series against Louisiana State and moving first place in the Southeastern Conference, the Cats came out flat against the Cards.
In his second start of the season, UK freshman Sam Mahar could never find his rhythm. An error by shortstop Matt Reida put U of L's Nick Ratajczak on first in the opening inning. After a hit and a walk, Alex Chittenden made Mahar pay with a two-run single up the middle.
The Cats cut the Cards' lead in half in the top of third, but the Louisville quickly responded.
After Mahar loaded the bases by giving up a double and a walk and hitting a batter, he walked in a run. Mahar's shoulders sunk and his head was fixated on the ground as Henderson walked to the mound to replace him.
"That's two games in a row we've had young pitching not respond the way it has through the course of the year," Henderson said. "We did not respond well."
Henderson put in freshman Chandler Shepherd whose outing was similar to Mahar's
Shepherd hit the first batter he faced, bringing home a run. Then he surrendered a ground-rule double to Jeff Gardner. Eight consecutive hitters reached base before UK registered an out, and by then the damage was done. Kentucky trailed 8-1.
Shepherd gave up four hits, three runs and three walks in 2 1/3 innings.
"You put up six in the third, it took us out of the game," Henderson said. "I'm really disappointed with that."
Despite the lopsided score, UK felt it had its chances. The Cats left at least one runner stranded in four of of the next six innings, eight in the game.
"We didn't roll over by any means but any time you put six up on the board it's going to be awfully tough to come back from," Maile said.
UK loaded the bases in the seventh with one out, but after a Cardinal pitching change, the Cats' only run came off a sacrifice fly.
"We put them in a position where they could be really confident and really aggressive (with the lead), and I thought they took advantage of that," Henderson said.
UK's two worst losses of the season have come against U of L. Maile wouldn't admit the Cards were the better team overall, but there was no denying they have played better head-to-head.
"We didn't play well, but they played great both times we played them," Maile said. "They haven't done anything but throw the ball down in the zone, attack our hitters, and be able to get a second pitch over. That will beat a lot of teams. Credit to them, but we just have to play better."
The loss won't hamper the Cats, Maile said. Although the Cats are a consensus top three team, they have been in this position before.
"We've had the momentum sucked out of us a couple times and we've just bounced right back," Maile said. "We lost two straight a couple weeks ago, Louisville and (at) Arkansas on Friday night, then swept (Arkansas) in a doubleheader in the toughest ballpark in America. We'll get it back."