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Kentucky hoping Louisville sweep is prescription for struggling bats, arms

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UK head coach Gary Henderson and the Wildcats look to take the season series with a win over Louisville on Tuesday (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) UK head coach Gary Henderson and the Wildcats look to take the season series with a win over Louisville on Tuesday (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
When No. 17 Kentucky and No. 8 Louisville tangle for the second time this season on the diamond, UK head coach Gary Henderson would like to see his team take the field with a little more purpose and focus - and perhaps a little more confidence - in the Wildcats second and final meeting with the Cardinals this season.

The Wildcats, who are coming off of a disappointing weekend that saw them drop two of three at home to Tennessee, are looking to get back on track with a win over one of their biggest rivals. Heading into yet another difficult Southeastern Conference road series with South Carolina, it's going to be important to head into Columbia, S.C., with a good taste in their mouth.

"Just like every time you lose a weekend series, it's important to come back and get the mid-week game. You can't deny that," said Henderson. "To play well, that's important. To get a 'W' is important. Get your confidence back at the plate; clearly we're going to need to do that."

The Kentucky offense over the last two weeks has been lackluster. Save a nine-run performance in the second game of the Tennessee series when UK scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Kentucky bats have rung hollow.

After scoring just six total runs at LSU including a pair of one-run outputs, the Wildcats are averaging just 3.7 runs per game. The pitching hasn't been up to UK standards either, as the Cats are allowing 7.8 runs per contest over that same seven-game span.

Kentucky is looking for both its bats and the arms to get right.

Life in the SEC can be rough, and it usually is for everyone for at least a few weeks at some point in the season. Right now, it's Kentucky's turn, like it or not.

"We've got a good club, but we haven't played very well for two weeks now," said Henderson. "That's the truth. The things that I think about are, we can get back to doing the things that we did.

"It's our turn now, unfortunately. We'd like for it not to be, but it is. You own up to it."

So Henderson brought in his three weekend starters on Monday morning and took a look back at the video from the series and talk about their approach. A.J. Reed had the most success of any of the three, allowing just two runs over 6.2 innings, and the Wildcats went on to win that night. Reed got stuck with the no-decision.

Henderson wants to make sure that his starters aren't trying to pitch a perfect game every time they take the hill and get ahead of themselves in the process. Instead, he wants his staffers to slow down and make the best pitch they can throughout the course of the ballgame.

Rather than trying to pitch a perfect inning and being upset with a hit, walk or run scored, Henderson wants his guys to manage the inning and keep damage to a minimum while keeping any frustrations on the backburner.

"You start with making sure those starting pitchers understand what they need to do in terms of just be who they are and do a good job of playing the game of a pitch at a time and don't try to do more than they should do," Henderson said. "We don't need anything more than what you can do and do a pitch at a time."

It's easier said than done, however. What Henderson does have going for him is that his team has been able to do already at points in the season. For the first seven weeks, his team was picking up the clutch hits in big situations. His pitchers were making great pitches and wriggling out of jams.

It's all just a matter of getting back to that and Henderson believes he knows what that's going to take.

"I'm just a huge believer in doing the basics and doing them well, and if you do that, you've got a chance to get back on track," Henderson said.

The key to getting back on track will be confidence. After LSU rattled UK's cage a bit, the confidence has seem to be a little bit shaken. Hitters are thinking too much at the plate. They are taking more third strikes now than at any point earlier in the season. They just aren't themselves.

"I think the indecisiveness, the lack of plan, the lack of clarity, those are the things that show a little bit of the stress, pressure and distraction," said Henderson.

"The indecision leads to chase, expanding the strike zone when you don't need to. I think it also leads to those called thirds. We didn't have a lot of those early on. All of a sudden those are popping up."

The uncharacteristic traits UK has exhibited over the last two weeks were fairly familiar to Henderson, though they weren't necessarily attributed to his own team. Actually, Henderson thought that his squad resembled another SEC team, one that UK took two of three from in March in Lexington.

"I thought John's (Cohen) team when they were here looked a lot like us this weekend. All of a sudden three weekends later they turn it around," said Henderson. "I knew John would get his guys going, he's got a good team.

"I really felt like when we got done this weekend we were Mississippi State three weeks ago."

Mississippi State is coming off a big three-game sweep on the road over Texas A&M after a slower-than-expected start to the season. The Bulldogs bounced back, so why not Kentucky? Henderson knows his team will.

There won't be a better way to do it than by getting back on right track with another win against the Cardinals on Tuesday. The Wildcats took the first meeting of the season in Louisville in an exhilarating 5-4, 10-inning win just two weeks ago.

An additional bump in attendance for Tuesday night's tilt may give the Wildcats an extra jolt in confidence when UK football head coach Mark Stoops throws out the first pitch. Additionally, fans that pack Cliff Hagan Stadium early can enjoy a cheap dinner with $1 hotdogs and drinks until 5:30. UK students can purchase $1 hot dogs and drinks the entire evening with a student ID.

With marketing efforts ramped up and the always-heated in-state rivalry in full motion, it's clear that there is plenty at stake. Though it's a non-conference matchup, this one, all things considered, is just as important.

"It's an important game. We want to win," said Henderson. "It's an in-state rival. We've never played a Tuesday or Wednesday game here where I didn't think it was important to win."

"It's a win against a good team if you can do it. It helps you in the postseason. It helps you in the RPI. Beyond that, it's another game against a good team."

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