Riding the longest winning streak in college baseball and soaring to as high as No. 2 in the national polls is "a nice place to be," Kentucky Coach Gary Henderson said Tuesday.
But the Wildcats aren't getting carried away.
"It doesn't mean anything," Henderson said of the rankings. "They don't hand out regional bids based on what your record is in the middle of March. They don't give you an opportunity to host yet. So we've got to handle all those things and move forward in a respectful manner of the game."
UK (21-0) is ranked No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball, No. 6 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, No. 13 by the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and No. 16 by Baseball America. The Cats moved up in all the polls after a three-game weekend sweep of two-time defending NCAA champion South Carolina.
Now, after 18 consecutive home games, the road beckons. UK will visit Cincinnati on Wednesday at 4 p.m., then head to Tennessee for a three-game weekend series. The Cats will come home to play Western Kentucky on Tuesday then travel to Georgia for another three-game conference series March 30-April 1.
"Our guys are not giddy," Henderson said. "They're just not. That's not the group of personalities that we have. I'm not saying there won't be a bump in the road or stubbing a toe or anything like that moving forward. But our guys, 21 games into it, they're very respectful of what it takes to be successful and they have a good time. We've got a very, very good sense of humor on our club, but there's a toughness and a competitive spirit that would, at this point in time, lead me to believe that we're not going to get full of ourselves or get giddy on the road."
The 21-0 start is the best in UK history and is two wins shy of the Southeastern Conference record for consecutive wins set by LSU's 2009 NCAA champions.
The Wildcats lead the SEC with a .333 batting average, with 21 homers and 24 stolen bases. They began this week leading the NCAA in on-base percentage (.433), and ranked second in hit batters (43), third in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, .930), fifth in runs (172) and slugging (.497), sixth in total bases (351), seventh in hits (235) and 10th in doubles (47).
UK's pitching staff has a 2.95 ERA with 200 strikeouts in 189 innings.
The Cats rank third in the SEC with a .978 fielding percentage.
But who could have expected this type of start?
"When the season starts, I certainly am not planning on 21 in a row," Henderson said. "But you're hoping to go out and play the first weekend good. I thought we'd be vastly improved. I thought we'd be tougher. I thought we'd be better defensively; I didn't know that we'd be quite as good defensively as we've been for the most part of it. ... Pleasantly surprised."
Freshman right-hander Chandler Shepherd (1-0, 3.10 ERA) will make his third start at Cincinnati (8-9).
The all-lefty weekend rotation will continue to be Taylor Rogers (4-0, 4.03), Jerad Grundy (3-0, 2.73) and Corey Littrell (2-0, 2.45).
Then there's the bullpen, which came up roses against South Carolina.
"I thought our kids pitched with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence out of the pen," Henderson said. "Any time you go 101⁄3 (innings) over three games and they don't score, that's more than just luck. We've had a tremendous sense of calm in close games."
UK has seven one-run victories.
Right-handers Tim Peterson (2-0, 0.87 ERA), Walt Wijas (2-0, 4.97) and Trevor Gott (1-0, 2.08 ERA, five saves) have split the bulk of bullpen chores with left-handers Alex Phillips (2-0, 2.40 ERA) and Sam Mahar (0-0, 1.93 ERA).
SEC Freshman of the Week A.J. Reed is two-way threat. He earned two wins on the mound last week and hit .526 (10-for-19).
Outfielder Zac Zellers leads UK in batting (.393). Reed is hitting .386 and leads the team in RBI with 28. Austin Cousino and Luke Maile also have been among the team's hottest hitters.
"We're off to a good start," Henderson said. "We're excited about it. We've got a lot of things that have gone our way.
"We've done a good job in several areas and we've got a lot of things that we can continue to work hard at and get better at, and that's what we'll do."