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Baseball looking to bounce back in SEC series with Tennessee

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UK rebounded from a three-game sweep at LSU with a 6-3 win over Austin Peay on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK rebounded from a three-game sweep at LSU with a 6-3 win over Austin Peay on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Nothing went the way of the Kentucky baseball team last weekend.

The Wildcats played their worst weekend series of the season. LSU - arguably the nation's best team - played exceptionally well in front of a raucous home crowd. And it didn't help that every break went the Tigers' way.

The result was a three-game sweep - UK's first weekend series loss of the season - as the Wildcats were outscored 29-6.

"That wasn't a one-inning blip," head coach Gary Henderson said. "We just didn't play well."

As disappointing as the performance was, Henderson isn't sounding any alarms. There were issues that needed addressing, but UK had played too much good baseball leading up to the road trip to Baton Rouge, La., for grave concerns.

"Baseball's like that," Henderson said. "You've gotta be able to experience those weekends, get through 'em and then get rid of them and then get on to the next one."

But before the Cats could move to the next weekend, they faced a midweek matchup with Austin Peay in a game that suddenly took on additional importance as UK sought to avoid a four-game skid. Behind a second straight strong start by freshman Kyle Cody, the Cats won 6-3 on Tuesday night.

"I thought it was really important," Henderson said. "Austin Peay's a good team, they've got a really good chance of winning the (Ohio Valley Conference), they have really good players, a good track record. For us to play well, pitch well - especially defensively play well - was a really good sign. I thought we came back and played with a lot of confidence."

The task now becomes transferring that confidence back into Southeastern Conference play.

UK (23-9, 6-6 SEC) will host Tennessee (14-17, 3-9 SEC) for a three-game set beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday. The Volunteers have lost six straight in conference play, but Henderson singled out Saturday and Sunday starters Nick Williams and Zack Godley as pitchers who will give the Cats all they can handle.

"They present the challenges of being an SEC team that's got two solid starting pitchers, and they're in a corner," Henderson said. "They'll show up and they'll be aggressive and they'll fight. We need to respond accordingly."

UK's pitching staff, meanwhile, will face an offense reminiscent of the one it sees in practice every day. The Volunteers have just eight home runs on the season, but have already stolen 54 bases, which will be a test of the Wildcats' ability to control the running game. UK has allowed just 13 steals in 22 attempts in 2013.

"They try to rattle you a little bit," Henderson said. "Our guys typically are very good with that type of approach because it's similar to ours."

Henderson believes it important for the Wildcats to embrace their own offensive identity. At times this season - particularly the first two games at LSU - UK has tried to go against that nature and the result has been pop-ups aplenty.

"It's not a home-run game anymore; it's a different game," Henderson said. "It just is and we need to approach it where we really emphasize or utilize or accentuate our talents, our skills. We're a line-drive, doubles-hitting club and that's how we need to approach it."

In emphasizing that approach, Henderson used a tweaked lineup in the Austin Peay win. It was by no means an overhaul, but Austin Cousino, after leading off in every game of his first season and a half at UK, moved into the three hole, freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett led off and fellow newcomer Zack Storm got his first-career start.

Barrett and Cousino are likely to stay in those spots on Friday. Beyond that, anything could happen.

"I don't think anything's permanent," Henderson said. "That's where we are now, but a baseball lineup is constantly in flux."

Regardless, don't view the Tennessee series as some sort of proving ground or place for experimentation. The Cats will play 14 of their next 16 games against ranked opponents, but this weekend is the priority.

"Anybody in this league is good enough to beat anybody," Henderson said. "That's proven every weekend."

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Every break went LSU's way? Yep, every home run, triple, double and single went LSU's way. Maybe it had a little to do with LSU's pitching?

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