UK Baseball

Kentucky on track to host baseball regional despite slip-ups vs. Louisville

Kentucky coach Gary Henderson could not find any working combinations as #1 Kentucky lost to #20 Louisville  on Tuesday  April 24, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky coach Gary Henderson could not find any working combinations as #1 Kentucky lost to #20 Louisville on Tuesday April 24, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Kentucky's blowout baseball loss at Louisville on Tuesday left both teams looking to the past and to the future.

For Kentucky, the 10-2 loss came barely 48 hours after wrapping up a highly anticipated series with LSU. The Cats won two of three in the No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup. Coach Gary Henderson acknowledged the possibility of an emotional dip even if the Cats next played at in-state rival Louisville.

"I think about that," he said. "You take two from LSU, sure it's emotional.

"But we've got to be able to play on Tuesday regardless of what happens on Saturday or Sunday. There's no excuses."

Star catcher/first baseman Luke Maile dismissed the notion of the LSU series draining Kentucky.

"To be honest, it wasn't tough," he said of getting prepared to play U of L. "When we play Louisville, all bets are off. We're here to play."

According to Baseball America's latest weekly update, Kentucky remains one of four teams "secure" in playing host to an NCAA Tournament regional event in a month. The other three secure teams are Florida State, Baylor and Florida.

The NCAA Baseball Committee is scheduled to announce on May 27 the eight teams that will host regional tournaments. Any of those teams that win those events automatically get to host so-called "super regionals" the following week.

The Baseball Committee will announce the overall NCAA Tournament field on its Selection Monday, May 28.

Kentucky (35-7) has four series remaining in Southeastern Conference play beginning this weekend at Vanderbilt. Three of the four remaining opponents — Vandy (7-11), Alabama (6-12) and Mississippi State (8-10) — have losing league records.

Louisville, which entered the game on the metaphorical bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid, saw the 10-2 rout of No. 1 Kentucky as a reason to think big.

"One of the goals of the program is to host a regional," Coach Dan McDonnell said after the game. "There are still 15 games left."

Louisville (29-12) resumes play this weekend against visiting Connecticut, one of the first-place teams in the Big East. U of L is a game behind three teams tied for first: UConn, St. John's and South Florida.

When U of L routed Kentucky 12-0 on April 10, "We didn't have the best of weekends," McDonnell said. The Cardinals lost two of three to Seton Hall.

Baseball America saw Louisville in "solid position" to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That would set up the possibility of UK again playing U of L in the post-season.

If such a game occurs, the early innings might again be key.

Sophomore Alex Chittenden's two-out, two-run double in the first inning got Louisville off to a good start Tuesday.

"Our strength all year has been scoring early," McDonnell said. "The two-out RBI hit was huge."

The U of L coach suggested that hit made more of a difference than the six-run third-inning that built an 8-1 lead.

"The first inning really sticks out to me," he said. "We just grinded out some at-bats."

When asked if the blowout loss at Louisville might rob Kentucky of the momentum created by winning the series against LSU, Maile said, "I hope not."

Maile noted the capricious nature of baseball, which was in evidence in Kentucky's two losses to Louisville by a combined 20 runs. UK's other five losses this season have come by a combined 11 runs.

"It's a funny game," he said. "Sometimes you feel you brought it. You feel you did everything you could, and somebody beats the hell out of you. That's kind of what's happened with them a couple times."

Cousino selected to national team

UK freshman center fielder Austin Cousino was named Wednesday to play for the USA Collegiate National Team, the first Wildcat to be selected since John Wilson in 1999.

Cousino will be part of Team USA's 22-man roster, which will convene in June at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, N.C. Highlights of the team's schedule this summer include a five-game series in Cuba, July 5-9, and an event in the Netherlands July 14-22.

A native of Dublin, Ohio, Cousino is the third Wildcat to earn a spot on the USA Collegiate National Team. Chad Green represented the U.S. in the 1996 Olympic Games and Wilson played for the national team in 1999 in Japan.

Cousino has previous national team experience. He was named MVP of the International Baseball Federation World Championship while playing for the U.S. U-16 National Team in 2009.

Cousino, UK's leadoff hitter, leads the Cats in average (.345), at-bats (174), runs (44), hits (60), doubles (17), steals (nine) and outfield assists (eight). He has a triple, seven homers and 35 RBI, and owns a .409 on-base percentage and a .575 slugging mark.

"It is a great honor," Cousino said in a news release. "This is the second time around for me and the first experience was a great one. You get to be surrounded by great players and coaches during the summer, which is a tremendous asset. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I get to do twice now, which is really amazing. It is a great privilege and honor to represent your country and wear USA across your chest."

Littrell honored

Kentucky sophomore left-hander Corey Littrell has been named to the watch list for the College Baseball Hall of Fame National Pitcher of the Year award.

The Louisville native was one of 51 pitchers named Wednesday for the award.

Littrell is 6-0 in 10 starts this season with a 2.51 ERA.

In his staff-best 61 innings, Littrell has allowed 16 walks and struck out 52.