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UK baseball has dug itself a mighty deep hole

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4666213.jpegOne of the beauties of baseball is its season's longevity and opportunities. In most cases, a team can never get too high or too low because there is always another series to balance out everything with 56 regular-season games during the year.

However, after the Kentucky baseball team's 8-2 loss to Auburn on Sunday, the third time in as many weekends UK has been swept in Southeastern Conference play -- this time by an opponent that was badly in need of a win like Kentucky -- the team has to start wondering whether or not it has dug itself a hole to deep to climb out of.

With Sunday's loss, Kentucky dropped its ninth straight league game, the most consecutive losses since starting the 2005 SEC season 0-9. More importantly, UK falls to 2-10 in the league and into a tie for last place in the conference with Tennessee. Kentucky is currently three games out of the all-important eighth and final SEC Tournament spot with four teams to climb over.

Faced with 18 league games still left on the schedule -- still more than half of the conference slate -- where does the team go from here?

"You go to Tuesday," head coach Gary Henderson said, referring to Tuesday's nonconference tilt at archrival Louisville. "You've got to get to the next game. Obviously we're going to play better than we did this weekend. We're a better club than that but that's how we played and those are the results. Now we've got to move forward and the next ballgame is Tuesday."

Before Tuesday rolls around, though, Henderson and his ballclub will try to make sense of another disappointing weekend.

A week after handcuffing defending national champion South Carolina to 11 runs in three games, Kentucky's pitching staff surrendered 35 runs and a total of 48 hits this weekend. The usually reliable UK bullpen allowed 19 of those runs over eight innings.

"I wouldn't pin it on our bullpen today," Henderson said. "I don't think our bullpen gave up a hard hit ball."

But the wheels did fall off in the seventh inning when the Tigers plated four runs on four hits, including a game-changing call by first base umpire John Whitaker.

With the game tied 2-2, a runner on second base and two outs, starting pitcher Taylor Rogers induced Justin Hargett into a bouncer to the middle of the infield. Senior shortstop Taylor Black fielded the chopper on the run and threw it to first, but Hargett was called safe on a bang-bang play.

A video replay of the call, which would have been an inning-ending out, showed Black's throw beat the runner by half of a step. Auburn opened up the game after the call.

"I thought our body language, I thought our tempo, our energy was outstanding until that missed call in the seventh, to be honest with you," Henderson said. "It got away from us and we didn't get it back."

Henderson couldn't place the whole game on the call, though. After Rogers left in the seventh and the bullpen took over, the defense committed a costly error in the seventh and three more in the eighth, paving the way for five unearned runs.

"It's the whole inning," Henderson said. "When a game is not going your way and you're not playing well, you just don't get all the breaks. Clearly the guy is out, but beyond that break, which would have put up a zero on the board, we've got to field the next groundball. That's the nature of baseball. You don't get every call. That one obviously went against us but we've got to field the next groundball and minimize the damage. We didn't, and the next thing you know they've got a four spot up there."

Prior to the latest SEC series, the conclusion from the ballclub was that it played better at home because it was simply more comfortable at the friendly confines of Cliff Hagan Stadium. A 14-3 mark at home before the Auburn three-game stand and a 1-7 record on the road seemed to qualify that stance.

Not anymore following an 0-3 weekend at home.

After the latest slew of losses, it's more about this team's inability to get everything on the same page at the same time. On a weekend where UK found its offense (34 runs and nine home runs), its bullpen and defense gave in.

 It seems that once UK solves one thing, something else goes wrong.

"Man, it's the truth," said senior Braden Kapteyn, who has experienced both sides of the struggles as a two-way player. "I feel like it's been like that for a while. In the end it's a grind; it's a long season. You've got half of it left. You've got to stay positive and we'll figure it out."

Kapteyn was asked what the positives are at this point. He mentioned a solid start by Rogers (6.2 innings, seven hits and three earned runs) and the improved hitting.

"Whenever you get swept it's never a good thing," Kapteyn said. "At this point we're in a little bit of a rut. You've got to pick the positives and try to build on them. Any win is momentum."

And UK, three games out of the eighth spot for the SEC Tournament, needs wins quickly.

It isn't time to panic yet if you're the UK baseball team, but it's getting close. The hole is getting deeper and deeper, and there's only so high you can climb out.

 

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1 Comment

A call on a single bang-bang play at first is not "game-changing" unless you're trying to make excuses. Five unearned runs, and you're making a big deal about a close call on a groundout? Really?

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  • bigyaz: A call on a single bang-bang play at first is not "game-changing" unless you're trying to make excuses. Five unearned read more