UK baseball notes: UK's Henderson OK with SEC tourney format

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 26, 2012 

SEC Mississippi St Kentucky Baseball

UK's J.T. Riddle, right, was congratulated by Lucas Witt after hitting a solo home during a game last season against Mississippi State.

DAVE MARTIN — AP

HOOVER, Ala. — No carping from the Cats.

After Kentucky became the first one-game loser eliminated from the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament, Coach Gary Henderson was asked the inevitable question.

Tuesday through Friday, this was a double-elimination tournament.

Saturday, the format switched to single-elimination, a move that coaches had agreed on in order to expand the field this year from eight teams to 10.

So UK, which beat Mississippi State 5-1 Thursday, was knocked out when the Bulldogs turned the tables Saturday, 2-1, at Regions Park.

"I'm fine with the format," Henderson said. "You bring in 10 teams, it's not going to be perfect. I've got no complaints. ... Somebody's going to complain about the hotel. Somebody's going to complain about the food, and the tournament, and the dugout was 'this.' We don't have any complaints. We loved it and we'd love to come back, and we're going to do everything we can to get back here."

On to the NCAAs

The NCAA will name 16 regional hosts Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The entire 64-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced Monday, on ESPNU, at noon Eastern.

Pitching holds up

In going 2-1 here, UK pitching allowed three runs in 27 innings (1.00) and 19 hits — all singles — with 24 strikeouts and seven walks.

"I'm really proud of our guys and, hopefully, we'll learn from this and benefit from it," Henderson said. "Our guys did a great job of competing all week and went about it the right way."

■ UK left-hander Corey Littrell (8-2) gave up two runs on six hits over six innings with less than his best stuff. He struck out six and walked two.

"I felt all right. Starting pitching, you're going to have your best stuff one out of four appearances, so you've just got to be able to compete and throw the pitches you need to when you need to," he said. "They put some good swings on some balls, got two runs, but I felt like I did all right.

"For me, I'm kind of mad at myself for giving up two runs. But our (bullpen) pitched great. Taylor (Rogers) came in and Trevor (Gott) came in, so you've got to tip your hat to their pitching staff."

■ Henderson weighed in on Littrell's effort: "He's got to continue to make progress. He's way beyond where he was last year, and it certainly wasn't his cleanest, most efficient outing. But you look at it, it's against one of the better teams in the country; he goes six; he gives up two runs; they square up about two balls. It's hard for me to really fault him.

"He's on a big stage and clearly he's fighting himself a little bit early on. I think we're four of the first 14 first-pitch strikes and seven out of the first 22. It's just hard to look good when you're pitching in those conditions — too many 2-0 counts, too much behind. But Corey Littrell is a very good competitor. ... I suspect that he will continue to get better and be a front-line guy. It's kind of hard to go 8-2 in the SEC. He's pretty good. But he's going to be even better next year."

■ Henderson had said Friday that Rogers would be his starter if UK made the finals. That plan was scrapped, though, as Rogers came on to pitch in the seventh. Afterward, Henderson said that his backup plan was to have A.J. Reed throw Sunday.

Rogers threw 21⁄3 innings of relief Tuesday, combining with Reed on a 2-0 shutout of Ole Miss. Saturday, Rogers worked 22⁄3 innings of shutout ball.

"I'm beyond 'happy' with him," Henderson said. "I'm just really proud of him."

Hits and misses

J.T. Riddle was UK's best weapon at the plate Saturday, going 3-for-4 with a homer.

"I came in 0-for-the-whole weekend," he said of an 0-for-7 start. "I just told myself I'd been seeing the ball well and just keep doing the things I've been doing, and hopefully some of the balls will drop for me, and they did that today."

Riddle is eager for another shot next week: "We'll be back when regionals start and be ready to go, just how we started this tournament off."

■ UK's Thomas McCarthy, who had two hits Saturday and six hits in his last two games, just missed a run-scoring double in the third inning. His drive down the right-field line landed inches foul. "That's just the nature of the game," he said. "We fought hard and kept competing."

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