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Baseball boosts resume, confidence with win in home finale

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Micheal Thomas hit his third home run of the season in UK's 5-3 win over No. 15 Indiana on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Micheal Thomas hit his third home run of the season in UK's 5-3 win over No. 15 Indiana on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The way things have gone lately for the Kentucky baseball team, it was natural to wonder whether the Wildcats would let a little doubt creep in during the seventh inning.

After leading throughout in its home finale, UK surrendered two runs in the top of the inning as No. 15 Indiana took a 3-2 lead. But before the Cats could even ask themselves the question of whether they would respond, Micheal Thomas led off the home half by putting a charge into an 0-1 pitch.

"Micheal came up and ran that ball out of the yard and got everybody excited," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Now you're tied, you've got the right part of the lineup coming up."

Thomas drove Luke Harrison's pitch over the wall in left field, changing the dynamic all over again. Matt Reida singled next and Zach Storm bunted him to second. Leadoff man Kyle Barrett followed with a walk before Zac Zellers flew out, setting up A.J. Reed - who had already homered on the evening - for a two-out at-bat with a pair of runners on.

Reed delivered a single and the go-ahead run. An inning later, Reida added an insurance run with a single that scored Austin Cousino, giving the Cats a 5-3 lead that would be more than enough for their star closer. Trevor Gott struck out two of the three batters he faced en route to his 12th save and UK (29-22) picked up an important win with just three regular-season games remaining.

"This was definitely a huge game for us for our regional purposes," Reed said. "Them being 15th in the country, that win on paper looks really good for us. So I think this really increases our chances of getting into a regional and we gotta go take care of business in Missouri."

Reed opined that UK needs two wins in Columbia, Mo., to ensure its place in the NCAA Tournament while some experts say a sweep is needed, but the Cats aren't spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about all that.

"Our coaches try not to talk about it a lot because they want us to just go out there and relax," Reed said. "But we know what we need to do so we just do our best to go out here and take care of business."

A victory over a team leading the Big Ten is certainly a plus for a team looking to solidify its tourney resume, but the confidence built through earning it could be even more important.

Indiana came in ranked seventh nationally in earned-run average, but the Cats pounded out 10 hits and those two home runs. The performance comes on the heels of a weekend during which UK didn't pick up a win, but did pound out a pair of double-digit hit games.

"We started off really well at the beginning of the year and then when conference started we kind started dropping off a little bit and then we faced the two best pitching staffs in the country two weeks in a row with Arkansas and Vandy," Reed said. "We outhit the expectations of those two pitching staffs. So we're putting really good at-bats together, I think our hitters are starting to get confidence and it should be a really good weekend for us in Missouri."

The confidence is translating into a better approach at the plate.

"It's aggressive," Henderson said. "You guys see it. The body language is different. The presence is different."

That goes for the pitcher who started for UK on Tuesday as well.

For the second Tuesday in a row, Jerad Grundy excelled as UK's midweek starter. The win escaped him, but he allowed just one run over six innings and Henderson said the senior lefthander was in "complete control" outside of a Dustin DeMuth home run.

"It was huge for my confidence tonight to come out and have success again the second week in a row," Grundy said.

In all likelihood, Grundy will be an observer only this weekend in anticipation of next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament. But if his teammates can replicate the approach they all took on Tuesday, it will serve them well against Missouri.

"The only thing I told them is they need to go down there with the expectation that they need to take the wins," Henderson said. "You can't go down hoping. I don't know that we've done a lot of hoping this year. We certainly haven't played up to our expectations at times, but we need to go down with the right attitude."

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