BY BRIAN GARDNER
While the Keeneland Spring Meet recently ended and Derby’s over, Bluegrass baseball fans are being treated to a horse race of a different color this summer. UK’s baseball team finds itself in a three-way pennant race in the SEC East and it looks like it will go down to the wire.
Currently in second place in the Division, (SEC record of 15-9) UK hopes to finish strong and head to the winners circle. But the Cats face a stiff championship challenge from the two teams who last year played for the National Championship. South Carolina (16-8) and Florida (14-10) are neck and neck with the Cats and look to make this a dead heat.
After winning their first six SEC series, the Bat Cats have lost two straight dropping two out of three to Vandy and the Gators. By salvaging a win on Derby Day, UK was able to maintain a one game lead on Florida while trailing South Carolina by the same one game margin. The SEC division winners get a valuable bye in the first round of the conference tournament which will be played May 22nd to the 27th. LSU has the inside track on a bye, having a virtual lock on the top spot in the Western Division with a record of 16-8. To overtake the Gamecocks for the Eastern Division title, UK must continue its powerful pitching but also awaken their slumbering lumber, as the Cat offense has turned anemic.
While most coaches alter their lineup from game to game depending on pitching match ups and gut feelings, Kentucky’s Gary Henderson has stoically stayed with his same starters virtually all season and elected to not change even the batting order. Finally, prompted by the dearth of scoring, Henderson juggled his lineup and gave highly touted Brian Adams his first start of the season. Batting seventh, Adams, a wide receiver on the football field and outfielder for the Bat Cats, responded by getting one hit in three trips to the plate. Look for Adams to get more at bats and possibly move to the top of the lineup where his speed on the base paths can be better utilized.
In their last home series of the season, May 11-13, Kentucky hosts Alabama, who brings up the rear of the Conference with a record of 7-17. The Cats need to win at least two of three, if not sweep the Tide. South Carolina and Florida both play Bulldogs this weekend with the Gamecocks visiting Georgia (12-12) and the Gators hosting Mississippi State (12-12). All three contenders are jockeying for position as the regular season enters the home stretch and gears up for a photo finish.
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