Bat Cats on the ropes entering final month of conference play


Junior infielder Chris Bisson warms up as he waits to go to bat during the game against the Xavier Musketeers at the Cliff Hagan Stadium Tuesday evening. Photo by Zach Brake

Life on the brink.

That is what UK baseball faces as it enters the homestretch of the regular season.

Look one way, and the golden promise of the Southeastern Conference tournament waits, where anything can happen. Look the other, and it’s a dull and bleak offseason, where nothing will happen.

UK (24-20, 7-14 SEC) sits in tenth place in the conference, two spots behind the eighth and final spot that makes it into the postseason conference tournament.

The Cats dropped a series to Tennessee (24-21, 8-13 SEC) this weekend. The two teams were tied for ninth place entering the weekend but Tennessee captured the position, dropping UK to tenth in the SEC.

UK has three series remaining in the regular season. They play SEC frontrunner South Carolina (16-5 SEC) May 7 to 9, powerhouse Louisiana State (11-9 SEC) May 14 to 16 and last-place Georgia (3-16 SEC) May 20 to 22, the last weekend of the season.

“We’re still fine,” second baseman Chris Bisson said. “We still got LSU, we got Georgia, and those are going to be important series for us to go out and do our best at.”

The Georgia series could be beneficial for UK should the race for one of the last spots remain in reach, as the Cats match up favorably with the Bulldogs. Georgia ranks near the bottom of the SEC in nearly every major hitting and pitching statistic.

Variable pitching is UK’s biggest concern as it enters the final stretch. Starter Alex Meyer is out with mononucleosis, although he should be able to return in time for one or two starts. The shaky pitching has put more pressure on the offense to consistently produce runs.

“We’re going to have to get more consistent at the plate,” head coach Gary Henderson said. “We can’t have the on Friday, off Saturday, on Sunday stuff. If you’re going to win, you have to be consistent every game and give yourself the most opportunities you can.”

The offensive inconsistency is reflected in the team’s contradictory performances. Since SEC play began, UK has had only two winning streaks of more than one game and has won only one series.

Part of that problem is the bullpen’s inability to lock down wins. Opponents have consistently climbed out of deficits to snag wins against the Cats’ corps of relievers.

Plenty of examples exist. Vanderbilt climbed from seven runs down for a 9-8 walk-off win against UK. Arkansas hit a two-out, two-strike, walk-off grand slam in a 17-16 heartbreaker defeat. Alabama scored 11 unanswered runs in an 11-9 UK loss. Auburn hit a two-out single that handed UK a 6-5 loss. Louisville scored four runs in the final inning to bury the Cats 10-9.

“We’ve got to figure out our bullpen,” Henderson said. “We’ve got to get tougher in the bullpen, there’s no question about it.”

Those losses have been major contributors in putting UK on the tightrope that leads to Hoover, Ala., for the SEC postseason tournament. It’s the second year in a row the team has been in this situation. Last year, UK had to win against Florida in the last game of the season to make it and lost.

This year, UK wants to write an alternate ending — one that ends on the right side of the brink.

“We’re going to figure it out,” Bisson said. “We need to just keep on fighting.”