NCAA Baseball: UK ready for Ball State
When Kentucky's baseball team had to board the bus back to Lexington after last week's winless Southeastern Conference Tournament experience, the quiet whispers had already begun.
Was UK's shocking run to the regular season SEC title a farce, some sort of David Copperfield smoke and mirrors show? Had karma finally caught up to the Cats at the wrong time? Fashionable questions they were, but not ones anybody on that bus was worried about concerning themselves with.
"There have been teams in the SEC Tournament who go two-and-out that went to Omaha and played in the World Series," UK coach John Cohen said during a NCAA-mandated press conference on Thursday. "I'm not saying that's what is going to happen for us, but that just shows the difference between one and 12 in the SEC is an eyelash. Our kids competed well. We don't disappointed in wins and losses, we get disappointed in passion and effort level. You couldn't be disappointed in that."
Although Cohen wasn't upset with his team's effort in Birmingham the fact remains UK enters the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament riding a three-game losing streak, the first such skid the Cats have been on all season. In fact, after winning 17 of 18 games to clinch the SEC East title, UK has lost four of its last five heading into Friday's 7 p.m. showdown with Ball State.
Not that Ball State finds that particularly encouraging. The Cardinals, who won the Mid-American Conference Tournament, come to Cliff Hagan Stadium as the No. 4 seed. They are also well aware of UK's reputation this season.
"(UK) can swing the bats a little," Ball State coach Greg Beals said. "They will probably hit a couple of balls over the wall."
To combat UK's hitting prowess Ball State will go with ace left-hander Ben Snyder. The sophomore – who was a 2005 Freshman All-American – posted a 7-5 record and 4.71 earned run average this season. He struck out 99 batters in 101 1.3 innings with his arsenal of four pitches (fastball, curve, slider and change up).
"Snyder can beat anyone," Cohen said. "He's a left-handed pitcher that has lefties batting .190 against him. We have some major left-handed guys so we know that."
With a full house crowd of more than 3,000 fans expected Friday night, Snyder will be pitching in front of the Cardinals' biggest crowd of the season. According to Beals. that shouldn't rattle the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder.
"He can be really tough when he's on," Beals said. "Hopefully he can hold them at bay and we can push across a few runs. (Snyder) is a great competitor. He has great presence. I don't expect the lights being on to affect him, usually the brighter the lights the better he is."
UK will counter with senior Craig Snipp, an experienced southpaw who has been the Cats' Saturday starter in SEC play this season. Snipp went 7-4 with a 3.47 ERA this season but was roughed up in his last outing against Georgia at the SEC Tournament, allowing six runs and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings.
The winner of UK and Ball State's game will face the winner of Notre Dame and College of Charleston on Saturday at 7 p.m. The loser will face an elimination game with one of those two opponents on Saturday at 2 p.m.
CF Antone DeJesus (.332, 4 HR, 30 RBI)
RF Collin Cowgill (.308, 16, 58)
C Sean Coughlin (.319, 17, 53)
1B Ryan Strieby (.344, 20, 77)
3B Michael Bertram (.343, 5, 33)
2B John Shelby (.286, 17, 53)
DH Billy Grace (. 292, 6, 26)
SS Ryan Wilkes (.256, 1, 23)
LF Shaun Lehmann (.229, 7, 29)
SP Craig Snipp (7-4, 3.29 ERA)
BALL STATE (37-20)
SS Eric Earnhart (.306, 3 HR, 19 RBI)
C Matt Singleton (.269, 2, 26)
CF Mike Sullivan (.318, 3, 38)
1B Brad Miller (.333, 21, 75)
DH Justin Rogers (.358, 5, 41)
3B C.J. Webb (.278, 7, 38)
2B Kyle Dygert (.310, 7, 34)
LF Chris Pestle (.247, 10, 41)
RF Matt Gard (.277, 2, 24)
SP Ben Snyder (7-5, 4.71 ERA)