UK baseball team headed to Louisville Regional

jclay@herald-leader.comMay 26, 2014 

SEC Baseball

Kentucky players celebrated after their 7-6, 12-inning victory over Mississippi State at the SEC Tournament last week in Hoover, Ala.

HAL YEAGER — AP

  • NCAA BASEBALL TOURNAMENT

    Louisville Regional (Friday)

    2 p.m.: Kentucky vs. Kansas

    6 p.m.: Louisville vs. Kent State

Once the Kentucky baseball team found out Louisville was one of the 16 regional hosts for the NCAA Baseball Tournament, it had a suspicion where it might end up.

"I don't think anybody was surprised," said outfielder Austin Cousino after the Cats learned Monday afternoon during the NCAA Selection Show that they are the No. 2 seed in the Louisville Regional, which starts Friday at Jim Patterson Stadium.

Kentucky (35-25) will play Kansas (34-24) at 2 p.m. in the regional's first game.

No. 1 seed Louisville (45-15) plays Kent State (36-21) at 6 p.m. in Friday's nightcap to complete the first round of the double-elimination format.

The tournament progresses through Saturday, Sunday and possibly Monday at Louisville.

The winner of the Louisville Regional will play the winner of the Tallahassee Regional — Florida State, Kennesaw State, Alabama and Georgia Southern — in a super regional the following weekend for a trip to the College World Series in Omaha.

Led by national player of the year favorite A.J. Reed, who leads the nation in homers (23) and slugging percentage (.768), Kentucky earned the eighth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

It is UK's second appearance under Coach Gary Henderson. The Cats were the runner-up in the 2012 Gary, Ind., Regional, which featured a 21-inning loss to — guess who — Kent State.

This year, Kentucky swept Louisville during the regular season, beating the Cards 8-3 on April 1 in Lexington, following with a 4-2 win in Louisville on April 15.

Kansas went 15-9 to finish third in the Big 12, its best baseball finish in the history of the conference. But the Jayhawks lost two straight games in the Big 12 Tournament.

The Jayhawks were No. 47 in the latest RPI rankings. Kentucky was No. 19.

With a possible game against Louisville looming on Saturday, does UK have to guard against overlooking Kansas on Friday?

"I can guarantee you we will not be looking past Kansas," said Henderson, who has participated in three regionals since coming to UK as an assistant coach in 2003. "In our three regionals we've won six games at the three and we're 0-3 in first games. I'm well aware of where we are."

It's the second straight season and the fourth time in the last six years that Louisville has been a regional host. The Cards won the American Athletic Conference regular-season title, their fifth conference title in the last six seasons. Houston upset the Cards 10-4 in the finals of the AAC Tournament.

Meanwhile, UK was one of a conference-record 10 SEC teams to make the 64-team NCAA field. The Cats posted a 4-3 record against the top eight national seeds, going 3-2 against No. 2 national seed Florida, 1-0 against No. 3 seed Virginia and 0-1 against No. 4 seed Indiana.

The Cats are coming off a strong showing in last weekend's SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. The Cats beat Alabama 7-1 in a single-elimination game, then beat top-seeded Florida 4-3 and Mississippi State 7-6 in 12 innings before being eliminated by Florida 6-5 on Saturday.

"We have tremendous confidence right now," Reed said. "Our last conference weekend against Georgia, we played really well. We played well in the conference tournament.

"So we're ready to go out there and play hard and we feel like we can play with anybody in the country and we're one of those teams nobody wants to play in the regionals."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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