By Nick Gray | @KyKernelGray
The past 12 months have been a whirling, jerking roller-coaster ride for sophomore centerfielder Austin Cousino.
Like his team 12 months ago, Cousino was talented but unknown to anyone outside of Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Cousino and his teammates received no preseason accolades prior to the 2012 college baseball season and were picked to finish fifth in the SEC East by the conference’s coaches.
The sophomore from Dublin, Ohio, was himself a big reason for the 20-win improvement for the Cats from 2011.
Cousino tied for the team lead in average (.319) while leading the team in hits (83), doubles (20) and total bases (134).
Louisville Slugger and Baseball America named Cousino a Freshman All-American. Cousino also was named the 2012 SEC Freshman of the Year and named to SEC All-Freshman team.
Cousino’s work was not done at the end of the Cats’ season. He traveled throughout the summer with the USA Collegiate National Team, leading the team in hitting.
Coming into the 2013 season, which starts with six road games, beginning Friday, Cousino has been named to the Louisville Slugger preseason second All-America team and the Baseball America preseason second All-America team.
Baseball America also named him the SEC preseason player of the year and the conference’s best defensive outfielder.
Cousino’s talent is a key reason for the Cats’ consensus top-15 preseason ranking, with one outlet, Collegiate Baseball, ranking the Cats at No. 8.
With the success of spring behind them, UK had a chance to finish the regular-season SEC East championship, traveling to Starkville, Miss., to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
UK needed to win one game in the three-game series. But the Bulldogs outscored UK, 18-7, en route to a three-game series sweep, and South Carolina won the SEC East by a half game over UK and Florida.
In the SEC Tournament, UK fell again to Mississippi State, 2-1, in the semifinals.
And in the Gary Regional of the NCAA Tournament (of which Cousino was on the All-Regional team), a three-run home run in the deciding game against Kent State appeared to hit below the home-run line on the fence in right field.
The Cats lost 3-2.
“I remember what it was like seeing Kent State dogpiling at Gary,” Cousino said. “Coming here to Kentucky, it seemed to be a very realistic goal for me. When you put all the names (last year) on paper and put it onto the field, as something that you grow up and dream of, and it can become a reality being that close, and not going the way you want, it definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”
Cousino did all he could do offensively for UK in the Gary Regional, batting .333 with seven hits, three runs batted in and two stolen bases in four games. Cousino thinks he and the team can learn from it.
“I think that being in a regional for the first time for all of us is a little eye opening,” Cousino said. “I think we can stick that in our back pocket for now, and take that (experience) and use it as the season goes on.”