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UK's resilience should help right ship in SEC Tournament

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Gary Henderson and his Wildcats will open the SEC Tournament against Ole Miss on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Gary Henderson and his Wildcats will open the SEC Tournament against Ole Miss on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
If there has been one adjective that has been tossed around more than any other to describe Gary Henderson's Kentucky baseball team this year, that word would be "resilient." Facing its second four-game losing streak of the season and coming off a tough series sweep at the hands of Mississippi State, the club known for its ability to bounce back after tough losses will need its best recovery yet.

The road to recovery starts Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET against No. 9 seed Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament. For a team that has lost four games in a row, it is important to just get back to playing ball.

"Obviously we've lost four in a row, so we're excited to get back on the field again and hopefully get rid of that streak," said Henderson on Monday's SEC Baseball Tournament teleconference.

Kentucky sprinted out of the gate this season, winning its first 22 games of the season and 24 of its first 25. The Wildcats finished the regular season with an 18-12 record in the SEC, their best since 2006.

But after a promising start to the conference schedule with a sweep over now No. 2 South Carolina, a series win over then No. 1 and now No. 2 Louisiana State, the Cats have fallen off their path, which once had them destined for an SEC regular season championship. 

Still, Kentucky went into last Saturday's series finale against Mississippi State needing just one win to become SEC co-champions and grab the No.1 seed in this week's SEC Tournament. It was not meant to be, however, as MSU finished off the sweep and Kentucky's seed in the SEC Tournament fell from first to fourth.

But it was not for a lack of confidence. Or enthusiasm. Or an inability to cope with pressure. Sometimes the other team is just better on that particular day, or weekend in this instance.

"They're a really confident team," said Mississippi State head coach John Cohen. "I saw a team with a swagger. I saw a team, I thought their preparation was right on the money."

Cohen, the former head coach at the University of Kentucky, took Kentucky to its last SEC championship back in 2006. But he is well aware of his fortune to be able to sweep a team like the Wildcats.

"I think we're very, very fortunate, and any time you sweep somebody, you have to have some luck," said Cohen. "We had some good things happen for us. They hit some balls really hard that we caught in the deepest part of the ballpark. Their shortstop played phenomenal defense. I think they got a couple of bad hops here and there. And that was your ballgame."

When you play baseball in the SEC, any team in the league can beat you at any time. Kentucky found that out this weekend. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way, and when the teams in the conference are as strong, talented and competitive as they are in this league, just a few bounces one way or the other can cost you a run, a game, a series or even a conference title.

Without question, though, this team will bounce back.

These Wildcats have done it all season. They have won close games while stemming the tide from comebacks of the opposition. They have battled back from large deficits only to post wins in those same contests. And after losing the first game of four different SEC series this season, they found ways to still take games two and three to come away with the weekend victory.

Tuesday morning, Kentucky will look to left-handed freshman pitcher A.J. Reed (4-2, 3.00 ERA) to trigger that spark it's been missing against the Rebels, opting to leave the weekend starters for potentially bigger games later in the tournament. 

When the Wildcats were playing some of their best baseball and off to a torrid start, they took their series against their first-round opponent Ole Miss. Now UK looks to refocus its attention on the Rebels, looking back on that series to try and repeat that success.

"They've always got above average pitching, and they did again when we played them," said Henderson. "They were tight games. We could have won all three if we didn't check swing. And they could have won all three if the calls at the plate went a little bit different. It was that tight of a series. (Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco)'s got a good club, good speed, power that we have to respect, and quality arms."

If the last two days of practice are any indication, his team is refocused and refreshed. After all, there is still much to play for. The Wildcats have a chance to host an NCAA Regional, they can improve upon their seeding in the NCAA Tournament and they still have a chance to win an SEC Tournament title. 

Henderson is not short on confidence in his players. He's talked about how much he likes this team and he seemed sincerely disappointed for his players that they, as a team, could not finish the job in Starkville, Miss. But Henderson also knows there is much more baseball to be played; they must move on to that next game.

And Monday, once again, he referred to his team with that familiar word: resilient.

"We've practiced the last two days and we've been very good," said Henderson. "Honest question and a good question, because you are certainly concerned with (a hangover), but I haven't seen those effects. I think we probably won't know until we start playing. But we've got a resilient group. Certainly a disappointing weekend in Starkville, but in our league you just don't have the time to cry about those weekends. You've got to get on to those next ones, and that's what we've got to do."

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