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By Nick Gray
Advancing to a Super Regional has eluded UK throughout program history.
It’s the next step for a program that has won a regular season conference championship, has been the No. 1 team in the country and has won 40 or more games in multiple seasons.
But UK continued its program-long drought of advancing to the Super Regional with its second loss of the weekend, a 4-1 loss to in-state rival Louisville in the Louisville Regional championship game on Sunday.
Louisville will host a Super Regional next weekend while UK is eliminated from the NCAA Tournament despite a quality start from a likely source.
Freshman Logan Salow pitched six innings of one-run baseball, exceeding more than two innings past his career highs in innings pitched. The Cats’ defense assisted him throughout the game, completing back-to-back inning-ending double plays.
Head coach Gary Henderson said he didn’t expect anything from Salow — but he did hold onto some hope that the freshman right hander could flourish.
“I was hoping to get three clean (innings from Salow),” Henderson said. “That will propel him (later in his career).”
Louisville left men on base in each of the first six innings and eight in total. When Salow exited in favor of Sam Mahar, the Cardinals took advantage of a walk and an error to score three runs in the seventh inning. By the time sophomore Zack Strecker entered the game with one out in the inning, Louisville led 4-0.
UK scored a run in the seventh inning after getting the first two hitters on base, but junior first baseman Thomas Bernal was thrown out at home to complete an inning-ending double play. Bernal was ejected after the play, in which he barreled into Louisville catcher Shane Crain above the waist.
Junior first baseman A.J. Reed struggled through the regional, stamped by an 0-for-4 performance on Sunday. His draft prospects — Baseball America has Reed selected 31st overall in its latest mock draft — had Reed focusing on UK in his rear-view mirror rather than his future.
“”It’s tough to think that was your last game,” he said. “You become a family.”
Henderson was reflective about Reed’s time at UK.
“He’s willing to listen to your thoughts, your ideas, your demands … and just does what you ask him to do consistently.”
Reed did a number of things that no other UK player has done, including being named as Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Year. But he, like all other UK players, failed to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Henderson is tasked with flipping what has been a program trend, as UK has gone 2-2 in its last four regionals and has lost its last three opening games.
“You gotta win the first game,” Henderson said about breaking through to the second weekend of the tournament. “That’s no guarantee, but it just makes it a much easier path.”