BY BRIAN GARDNER
While The Music Man may consider “Gary, Indiana, Gary Indiana, my home sweet home,” none of the four college baseball teams playing there this weekend call it their home field. As the NCAA baseball tournament opens play this weekend at 16 regional sites, the #2 seed Wildcats play in the Regional hosted by Purdue University, the 1 seed. As the facilities at Purdue were deemed inadequate, the NCAA moved the Regional instead to Gary , Indiana. The Wildcats open play against third seeded Kent State while Purdue plays Valparaiso, the four seed, in the double elimination format. Hosting a Regional close to your home field and fan base is a reward for a successful season. In an irony that only the NCAA can create , the lowest seeded of the four teams, Valpo, is located the closest to the playing site.
Pundits across the country agree the Bats Cats were unfairly snubbed from hosting a Regional tournament. Had the Cats won one more conference game, they would have been the regular season champs of the toughest baseball conference in the country. Instead the Cats finished fourth in the SEC. Kentucky trailed only LSU, South Carolina and Florida , all of whom are Regional hosts and ranked in the top 5 nationally. UK has a 6-3 record against these three national powers and led them in the conference standings entering the last weekend of the regular season. Inexplicably this did not earn the Cats a chance to serve as regional host but instead a bus trip to scenic Gary, Indiana.
However the Cats need to lick their wounds and show up ready to play lest they be bounced early from the Tournament. Kent is ranked #25 in the country and won two games in last years Regional. If the Cats want to continue one of the most successful seasons in UK Baseball history they will need to find some offense to go with their outstanding pitching and defense. Look for UK to try to manufacture some runs early in these games by use of sacrifice bunts and aggressive base running. Games will be played Friday, Saturday, Sunday and possibly Monday.
Bold prediction of the week: Rather than facing the pressure of hosting a Regional and being expected to win, the Cats thrive in the underdog role and prevail in this Regional, advancing to next weekend’s Super Regional.
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