Cats turn to speed in losing skid


The UK men’s baseball team talks with head coach Gary Henderson during the third inning of UK’s win over Morehead State at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Tuesday, March 2, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

There is no magic.

UK baseball head coach Gary Henderson uttered those words after a loss to Western Kentucky dropped UK (17-9, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) to 1-4 in their last five games.

And there’s no magic wand that can make things better for the Cats, who are in the midst of a stretch where they play 18 of 20 games vs. ranked opponents.

“There is no magic.  We have to play better, we have to hit better, we have to knock guys in, we have to make pitches when it matters,” said Henderson while going through a laundry list of things his team needs to improve upon.  “We have to do the whole thing better if you’re going to play that level of schedule.”

The tough schedule comes from a mix of out-of-conference (but in-state) opponents – WKU ranks in the top 25 in most polls, and Louisville, who UK plays twice, currently ranks in the top 10 in most polls — and top SEC foes such as Florida, Alabama and Arkansas.

“Your mindset has to be that you’re looking forward to it,” Henderson said following the 6-3 loss to WKU.  “You want to test yourself against the best people, which is what we do every weekend, and you want to play your best against them.”

The Cats are turning to their speed to get the offense going.  UK leads the conference in both stolen bases and attempts.

“We’re doing everything we can to spark the offense, trying to put up more than one run (in an inning),” Henderson said.

Neiko Johnson paces the team with 15 stolen bases, the most in the SEC.

“I like having the freedom to be able to run,” Johnson said.  “It helps having speed, but I just keep staying aggressive.”

The aggressiveness on the base paths may not always translate into wins — UK stole eight against WKU — but it helps.

“If you’re a base-stealing team, (opponents) tend to throw more fastballs and worry about runners more,” Johnson said.  “You’re more apt to get good pitches to hit.”

Even with runners on and advancing, the Cats are currently having trouble driving them in.

“We left another eight guys on,” Henderson said after the WKU game.  “That’s clearly the issue is trying to relax and drive guys in when you get them on.  The biggest issue is we’re going to have to create some offense, or your margin of error is zero.”

Even in the opening stages of a brutal schedule, with more to come, the Cats are confident in their ability to swing the bats.  Asked how they need to improve in RBI situations, Gunner Glad had a simple answer — and he didn’t say magic.

“Battle,” Glad said.  “But I’m confident with our offense we’ll pull around and cash guys in when we need it.  We have a lot of good guys, we just need to string some hits together.”