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By Nick Gray | @KYKernelGray
Prior to the 2012 college baseball season, UK coach Gary Henderson produced a rather mediocre three seasons with the Cats, combining for an 84-81 record and zero postseason appearances after two in the three seasons prior.
Fast-forward to this year, and Henderson is newly armed with a five-year contract worth $2.1 million after last season’s record-setting results.
But the mild-toned Henderson said that such a contract will not affect him personally.
“Yeah, my personality is just not going to change very much. You know? Your life changes a little bit but it just doesn’t change very much,” Henderson said. “If you’re part of this league in just about any sport I think it’s game on from day one, I think it’s every year and I think as soon as you have a weekend where you’re supposed to win three and you only win two or win one, you’re kind of right back to where you started, I think.”
Henderson’s 84-81 record at UK from 2009-2011 included a 33-57 record in SEC play, which left the Cats outside of the top eight in the SEC, and thus outside of the conference tournament under the old format.
In 2012, UK set all-time single season wins record at 45 but fell a half game short of the SEC East regular season championship and lost in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.
The struggles of closing out the end of the conference season continued in the Gary, Ind. Regional of the NCAA Tournament, where the Cats lost in the Regional finals.
Though the 2013 squad returns only three seniors from last season with both primary catchers, ex-third baseman Thomas McCarthy and right fielder Cameron Flynn (who combined for 29 of the team’s 56 home runs last season) gone from the program, Henderson believes the roster needs to build on last year’s tease of major success.
“The end of the season and how that affects them moving forward, I think that it affects their relationships, their personal relationships on the team. I think that’s important,” Henderson said. “I think they want to do better for each other. I think they like being here. They see we’ve got a chance to have a really good team, and they want to be a part of that. I think we probably had more kids that have a positive outlook on summer baseball because of the type of people they are and maybe some of the things that we went through would be my perception of that.”
This year, preseason expectations have turned upside down compared to 2012. UK is a consensus preseason Top 15 team ranked as high as 8th by polls, which is the highest preseason ranking for the Cats in their history.
UK’s key to the season will be handling the expectations alongside the difficult schedule in the SEC, a conference with six other teams selected in preseason Top 25 polls, Henderson said.
“It’s baseball. There are going to be ups and downs. You follow the sport, it doesn’t make any difference at what level, it’s really important,” Henderson said. “I think the inner confidence that you know that you’re going to be successful even if you have some short-term failure is important. I think leadership within a program is important when you have a disappointing game, a disappointing weekend. Those things happen to every team in our league, unfortunately. It’s just the nature of the beast.”
If Henderson and his squad builds on last season like the 2012 team did, the Cats could play its most important summer baseball in program history.