UK baseball sent to Gary Regional, draws Kent State in opener

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 29, 2012 

Gary Henderson defended UK's non-conference schedule.

  • NCAA baseball regional

    Kentucky vs. Kent State
    When: 4 p.m. Friday
    Where: Gary, Ind.

Yes, the Kentucky Wildcats were stunned by Sunday's news that they would not host an NCAA baseball regional.

Now, they're moving on.

That's the stance the Cats took after learning Monday that they will go to Gary, Ind., as a No. 2 seed.

UK (43-16) will take on No. 3 regional seed Kent State (41-17) on Friday at 4 p.m. EDT in U.S. Steel Yard, home of the professional independent Gary Southshore RailCats. UK will be making its seventh NCAA appearance and first since 2008.

Kent State, the Mid-American Conference champion for a fourth year in a row, has the longest winning streak in the nation at 17 games.

"Obviously we're disappointed not to be hosting, but you can't hold on to that stuff very long," UK Coach Gary Henderson said Monday. "You've got to get going, you've got to look forward. We've got Kent State Friday night, and that's what you've got to focus on."

Region host and Big Ten champion Purdue (44-12) is seeded first and will open at 8 p.m. against fourth-seeded Valparaiso (41-17), the Horizon League champ.

The double-elimination format will match Friday's losers in an elimination game Saturday at 4, followed by Friday's winners. Play continues Sunday with an elimination game at 4, followed by what could be a deciding game. If necessary, a final game would be Monday night at 8.

Louisville got a No. 3 seed in Tucson, joined by top seed Arizona, No. 2 New Mexico State and No. 4 Missouri.

UK is among eight teams from the Southeastern Conference in the 64-team NCAA field. Three SEC teams are among the top eight national seeds: No. 1 Florida, No. 7 LSU and No. 8 South Carolina, the two-time defending national champion. UK went 6-3 against those teams, winning 20 SEC games total.

Henderson said he heard from league coaches after missing out as a region host.

"They're shocked, think it's a slap in the face to the league," Henderson said. "... But they've got their own battles to fight and they've got their own games to play next weekend. So you talk about it for five minutes. You're shocked. You wonder what we can do as a conference to not have things like this happen to our clubs, and then you've got to move on. You've got to get on to the next thing."

Kyle Kallander, chairman of the committee that selected the NCAA field, was asked during the selection show how Miami was chosen as a regional host rather than UK. The Hurricanes tied for fifth-best record in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"We actually had seven institutions we were studying closely for those last spots," Kallander said. "So I wouldn't say it was Kentucky versus Miami, but it was who should be in that top 16 and who shouldn't be. And as we looked at it — and it's always tough to compare institutions from different conferences. And, of course, when you get to the No. 1s they're outstanding teams from outstanding conferences. We really focus in on what they do non-conference-wise. So non-conference strength of schedule was probably the difference as we looked at whether or not Kentucky should get that No. 1 seed."

Said Henderson, speaking with Lexington media: "Our non-conference schedule is not drastically different than several others in our league. ... You make those things two years in advance. You don't know what you're going to get. One year somebody's good, the next year they're young. I don't apologize for any of our non-conference schedule. It is what it is and it is what it's going to be.

"We need to continue to do a good job in league. Because I think the same thing you do: I think we got screwed. But that's just what it is. Then you move on."

Luke Maile, UK's catcher/first baseman, was miffed by the non-conference reference.

"I just think that that's flat-out wrong. If you line up our non-conference schedule with a lot of teams that are in this, that's just an inaccurate statement," Maile said. "It's not even a debate. ... Our non-conference schedule is a good one. They were Division I baseball teams, and we beat them 20 times in a row, so we're pretty proud of that. And we've got to beat a couple more non-conference people this weekend."

Just more fuel for motivation. After all, UK came into the season picked to finish fifth in the SEC East.

"I think we've kind of played with a chip on our shoulder a little bit," pitcher Taylor Rogers said. "And now that this happened with us, we might play with a couple chips on our shoulder."

Notes

■ The winner of the Gary Regional will advance to Super Regional (best-of-three) play against the winner of the Eugene, Ore., regional. Teams at Eugene, in order of seeds: Oregon, Cal State Fullerton, Indiana State, Austin Peay.

■ Of Rogers, who made his first two relief appearances of the season in last week's SEC Tournament, Henderson said: "I think the chances are really good we're going to run him back out there at the front of the game."

■ Senior third baseman Thomas McCarthy was named to the SEC All-Tournament team. He was 6-for-13 (.462), including three doubles.

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