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By Kevin Erpenbeck
Leadership was nowhere to be seen last season during UK baseball’s plunge from preseason No. 9 in the country to a missed NCAA Tournament.
Junior centerfielder Austin Cousino wants to ensure that 2013’s “failure of expectations” does not happen again.
The 5-foot-10-inch left-handed hitter is emerging as a leader on the UK roster. Cousino has started 117 out of 118 games in his collegiate career, including all 55 games last season.
Cousino was the first UK player to be named the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2012. He is also one of two UK freshmen to be named an All-American in the program’s history. These honors came after a season in which Cousino hit for a .319 average in the leadoff position. He collected 41 runs batted in and nine homers on the season.
Cousino’s offensive production regressed last season, as he batted a .249 average with 27 RBI and six home runs.
Cousino said that the different levels of success he has experienced can offer perspective to this year’s freshmen group when they struggle.
“Because I’ve been there before, I can work with them and build their trust,” he said.
Cousino’s defensive impact never lessened, as he became the third player in UK’s history to win the Rawlings Gold Glove award, given to the nation’s best outfielder. He was also named to the SEC All-Defensive Team in 2012 and 2013 by SEC coaches.
“When you have a good outfield, it gives the pitchers confidence knowing that the ball will be tracked down when it gets out there,” Cousino said. “I make sure the outfielders take great pride in their defense, because you can win ball games out there.”
Coming off a second stint with the USA Collegiate National Team (the first time any UK player has been selected twice), Cousino has developed leadership that will be essential to the rest of his teammates, said head coach Gary Henderson.
“The knowledge that he brings from those environments are great,” Henderson said. “I’m much more concerned about the leadership … the presence and the ability to handle short-term failure. Those are the things you learn the most from, and he’s done very good job at that.”
The mentality and maturity that trickles through the roster is going to be the team’s key to success this season, Cousino said.
“The freshman hit the ground running with their workouts this offseason,” he said. “So that, combined with our leadership from our juniors and seniors, is going to make us much more mature this year.”