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'Just a run short:' UK a changed team in spite of falling in SEC semis

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UK fell to Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinals on Saturday, 6-5. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) UK fell to Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinals on Saturday, 6-5. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Not long ago -- three weeks, to be exact -- the Kentucky baseball team appeared headed south.

Losing five times in six games to end April and begin May, the Wildcats suddenly found themselves in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament after a hot start to 2014.

"The thing that's so great about athletics is that you can't hide," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "You are what you are and we did what we did. We went 1-5 in two weeks and that puts you on the bubble."

Now, try and include UK in a bubble conversation with any expert and laughter is sure to follow.

The Cats closed the regular season by taking four of six games in their final two weekends of the regular season against Auburn and Georgia. They followed that with three victories in three days over top-25 teams to advance to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament before falling just shy of a title-game trip in a 6-5 loss to top-seeded Florida.

"We were just a run short," Henderson said. "I'm really proud of our kids."

Henderson has good reason to be proud. Responding in the face adversity, the Cats came together when they easily could have fallen apart.

"Our kids, they bought in," Henderson said. "They bought in to themselves. They bought in to the coaches. They bought in to each other. It's been awesome. Anybody that's watched us, you can feel it, you can see it."

Even in defeat, that was on display Saturday. Facing the Gators -- the league's regular-season champion -- just three days removed from beating them, the Cats never gave in even though arms were in short supply.

They raced out to a 3-0 lead, but Florida scored two runs in both the third and fifth innings to take a lead. But in the sixth, a single by Austin Cousino and a double by Max Kuhn put UK ahead, 5-4. The Gators, however, would score runs in the seventh and eighth against Andrew Nelson and Chandler Shepherd -- both of whom pitched for the second time this week -- for the final tally.

All told, Henderson called on 10 pitchers in four games this week. Seven were pitching for the first time in the postseason, making the fact that UK combined to allow just 15 runs all the more impressive.

"We've also really, really improved in poise overall in the program and the poise, especially on the mound, over the last month has been tremendous," Henderson said. "That piece of it's really gratifying because you pound it. Since August 25th you pound that."

After all that pounding, it seems to have finally sunk in. That makes for a confident team.

"Right now we're swinging the bats really well and our pitching's coming around, so it's looking good for us," A.J. Reed said. "Our last conference series at Georgia and our four games here, we played really well."

Because of that, UK is safely in the tournament and potentially a No. 2 seed when the bracket is unveiled at noon ET on Monday. How Henderson will set up his pitching staff and where UK will play remain up the air, but the Cats' mentality isn't changing.

"I think we've got some momentum going into regionals and we're excited to see where we go," Reed said. "We feel like we're a team that nobody wants to face right now."


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