One more win ties best start in school history

By Matthew George

The UK baseball team is on the cusp of making history — again.

A win over Morehead State today at 4 p.m. will make the Cats 19-0 and tie the records for the program’s best start and longest winning streak, marks set by last year’s squad.

But UK hopes to do more than just match the accomplishments of the 2007 team, which, after its record-breaking non-conference start, sputtered to a 13-16-1 Southeastern Conference performance and failed to make the league tournament.

Senior first baseman Brian Spear said despite identical 18-0 starts, he is not worried about a possible letdown in conference play because this year’s situation is much different than last year’s.

“Last year guys didn’t know what to expect,” Spear said. “We were just coming off an SEC championship team and we thought that’s where we should be again.”

The difference has already begun to show. In 2007, the Cats lost their SEC opening series to Arkansas. Over the weekend, the 2008 club opened league play by sweeping Alabama, propelling them to a No. 2 national ranking.

“This year we understand how to deal with SEC competition more so than last year,” Spear said. “And as for the expectations thing, we don’t have to deal with the things we had to deal with last year when we were coming off an SEC championship. We can just focus on the 2008 season.”

Head coach John Cohen cited experience as the key to UK’s red-hot start.

“We have tremendous leadership and kids that want to compete at the highest level, whether its in ping pong or weight lifting,” Cohen said.

He added that the Cats’ defense has also been a huge factor in their early season success.

“The infield defense is dramatically different this year than last year,” Cohen said.

In 2007, UK struggled to patch the defensive holes left by the departures of second baseman John Shelby and third baseman Michael Bertram after the historic 2006 season. But this year, with the editions of junior college transfer Chris McClendon and freshmen Chris Wade and Chris Bisson, the infield defense is much improved, Cohen said.

Last year, 44 errors were produced from the third base, second base and shortstop positions. So far this year, just 7 errors have been committed from those positions.

The improvements will help the Cats win close games that they might have lost a year ago, something Spear said is vital for the team to be successful.

“Playing close games is what it’s all about,” Spear said. “You want to be a team that wins close games. The best teams are the ones that consistently win one run games.”

And tight games are something UK can expect with weekend series against SEC opponents dominating the rest of the Cats’ schedule.

“Everything is a worry in the SEC,” Cohen said. “You can go out and play extremely well and get swept in this league.”

Cohen said a loss is inevitable for UK, but that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“In some cases, and I mean this in a good way, a part of the evolution of a ball club is seeing how guys recover after a loss,” Cohen said. “Of course it’s going to happen to us, because this league just punches you in the mouth.”

“You’re going to lose,” he said, “and you better deal with it the right way.”