The UK softball team advanced to the Women's College World Series for the first time in program history (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOS ANGELES -- The Kentucky softball team has made history all season, and Sunday against college softball's elite, it reached its peak.
The No. 14 Wildcats upended third-ranked UCLA with 7-3 and 7-1 wins Sunday to win their NCAA Super Regional and advance to the program's first Women's College World Series.
It took head coach Rachel Lawson just seven years to establish UK among the nation's best programs and book a trip to Oklahoma City and the World Series.
"This is a special day for us," Lawson said. "We're going into a place that we've never been before, I feel really excited. It's a dream come true for all the girls on our team and our staff, we've worked incredibly hard. This particular senior class, this is our third Super Regional, so we've been close enough to taste it, but for it to actually be a reality is very special."
The way the Wildcats got to the World Series is the perfect example of what the team is all about. Heavy underdogs coming into the Super Regional, UK knew it belonged on the big stage and wanted to prove it against the Bruins.
The Cats didn't care they were facing a team that had won 12 national titles and is widely recognized as the gold standard of college softball. They didn't care that they had to go on the road in a hostile environment for three games at UCLA's sold-out Easton Stadium.
The Wildcats believed they could win, and they got it done.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," senior captain Lauren Cumbess said. "We set a goal at the beginning of the year. We've always had that goal all four years that I've been here, but particularly this year, it was 'Women's College World Series or bust,' and we've really stuck to that and reminded each other what our goal was.
"It's just amazing, I can't believe that we did it. I can, but it hasn't sunk in yet. I think once we get to Oklahoma, it'll really feel like, 'Wow, I'm here on the biggest stage for softball.' "
UK found itself in a deep hole after Saturday night's game one, when UCLA scored four runs in the sixth inning to come back for a 6-4 victory. The Cats' backs were against the wall, but they weren't out.
As they have done all season, they kept on fighting. The offense had scored more than four runs just three times in the last month, but that didn't matter Sunday.
The UK offense exploded for seven runs in the first of two win-or-go-home games Sunday. The next game, Kentucky continued the offensive onslaught and scored another seven runs to give starting pitcher Kelsey Nunley some much-needed run support.
The last time UK scored seven or more runs in consecutive games was on April 8-9 against two non-conference foes. The Wildcats never achieved the feat in SEC competition, but that didn't stop them Sunday against a pitcher that is one of three national player of the year candidates.
"UCLA is one of the best teams in the country and I thought that we played well this weekend," Lawson said. "I watched our team grow up at the SEC Tournament, and I saw us continue to be strong through regionals and then I felt like we definitely got some lucky breaks, but I also thought we played well this weekend. The field of eight is incredible, but we're going out there, we're in the SEC, so we compete against good teams all the time. We're hoping to play our game and hopefully things will work out for us."
UK's rise to the Women's College World Series has not taken a long time. Lawson has been at the helm for seven seasons, and has taken the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last six years. Three of the last four years, Kentucky advanced to the Super Regional.
Making the College World Series for the first time in program history wasn't a matter of 'if,' it was simply a matter of 'when.' The rate at which UK rose in the national rankings suggested it wouldn't be any other way.
It took a combination of a great coaching staff, unparalleled support from Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and the UK administration and a great group of players.
"We have incredible support, we have one of the best venues in the country to play out of, we have fans come in droves," Lawson said. "Because of that, we're getting incredible recruits, as you can see. You can't advance without the athletes. It says a lot about the character of our team, our team does things the right way. The not only work incredibly hard all year, but they're also incredible students, they're great people. I'm very happy for our team because this is a dream for all of them come true. It says we're doing things the right way."
Of course, having a group of 19 players with a never-say-die attitude that doesn't care about rankings and what is "supposed to happen" certainly doesn't hurt.
It's a group of 19 players with a toughness, grit and passion, combined with an immense amount of talent and a never-quit attitude.
Just ask Cumbess, who watched as her starting pitcher fired 375 pitches in the span of just 24 hours and five minutes.
"I've always thought we are a really tough team, and it's shown throughout our season that we don't give up, we're always fighting back," she said.
Griffin Joiner blasted a grand slam in UK's 6-4 loss at UCLA on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The NCAA Softball Super Regional is a best-of-three series for a reason. The series is not won or lost in just one game.
After a 6-4 loss at No. 3 UCLA on Saturday, the No. 14 Kentucky softball team gets the chance to come back Sunday in game two and force a third game with a trip to the Women's College World Series on the line.
The Wildcats pride themselves on their ability to bounce back and keep on fighting. It's a team that doesn't give up, no matter the situation, whether it's coming back after a loss or continuing to battle at the plate.
They'll get another opportunity to respond Sunday and keep their season alive, and it will be a situation the Wildcats have experienced before, twice in SEC play this season.
UK lost the series opener at No. 16 Missouri before it rebounded to win the final two contests in mid-March, while Kentucky also fell in the opener to No. 18 Texas A&M only to answer with two wins to claim the series in early April.
"We're a team that fights," junior captain Griffin Joiner said. "We've fought all year. We're just going to have to come out tomorrow and fight as long as we can."
Despite the loss, there are positives to build on.
Sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley allowed just four hits and did not allow an earned run. After UCLA scored two in the bottom of the second, the UK offense responded with four runs in the third, courtesy of Joiner's grand slam.
Another positive was the play from the Kentucky infield, which turned two double plays to extinguish several Bruin scoring opportunities.
"Our infield was awesome," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "The double plays turned were great, so I think that really showed that we were ready to play. They were playing loose. To be able to turn as many double plays as we did with the number of free passes that we gave up on the mound really shows that the infield came to play."
The key on Sunday will be UK's ability to shake off Saturday's loss and focus on the next game.
Lawson has stressed to her team all season that the most important pitch is the next one. Sunday, that will have to be the focus.
"I think it's important to remember that the next pitch is the most important pitch," Lawson said. "What happened later in the game was we weren't looking forward to the next pitch. It was a tremendous crowd, they showed up great for Super Regionals, and I think we let the whole environment make us a little bit tentative."
Last weekend, Kentucky took advantage of the home crowd at John Cropp Stadium to win its Regional and advance to its third Super Regional in the last four years. Saturday, a crowd of 1,328 at Easton Stadium gave UCLA its spark. Sunday, UK will have to feed off the hostile road environment.
The Wildcats are in a hole and must win the next two games, but that's nothing that can't be done. It's already been done once in this season's Super Regional, by Florida State. Michigan claimed a 1-0 series lead Thursday before FSU won the final two games Friday to advance to the World Series.
Keep fighting, that's what Kentucky will have to do Sunday in game two, which begins at 3 p.m. ET on ESPNU. If the Cats do that, as they have so many times in a record-setting 2014, they will earn a third and deciding game, at 6 p.m.
The itinerary for the Kentucky volleyball team's trip to China said "all day free" on Sunday, but the Wildcats hardly sat around.
It began with practice at a training center in Nanjing before a lunch the team very much enjoyed. After four days of trying authentic Chinese food, the Cats ate at a Western-style restaurant. Burgers, fries, pasta cheesecake and coffee never tasted so good.
Well fed, the team then went to a museum in Nanjing for an educational tour. In the first picture at the bottom of the post, you can see the jade suits put together gold thread in which some members of the upper class were buried.
For dinner, it was back to authentic Chinese cuisine. The Cats ate with the heads of the training center where they are staying in Nanjing and exchanged gifts. The final second photo below shows Craig Skinner giving a UK volleyball t-shirt to one of the Cats' hosts.
Monday is set to be another busy day for UK. The Cats will play a match in the morning before traveling by train from Nanjing to Beijing and then by bus to Baoding. Check back in on Monday for an update on UKVBtoChina.com.
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."
Internet issues persist, keeping the Cats from posting any thoughts of their own, but continue to check in on UKVBtoChina.com to stay updated. A big day of sightseeing is ahead of Sunday, so we hope to have plenty of good stuff to share.
It was another busy day in China for the Kentucky volleyball team, as the Wildcats moved to a hotel in downtown Shanghai during a packed day of activities.
Friday began with 90 minutes of study on campus at Shanghai University followed by lunch. It was then off to Shanghai Training Center to play with the Shanghai Juniors, the team the Cats beat in their first match on Thursday. Afterward, the Cats took a riverbank tour of Shanghai and saw the Chenghuang Temple, as well as the Oriental Pearl Tower.
Spotty Internet kept the Cats from posting any thoughts about the day, but they did manage to sneak a few posts out on Twitter and Instagram.
Some internet issues here in our hotel today.The blog may not get updates until tomorrow. Great day at the Pearl Tower #UKVBtoChina
UK advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals with a walk-off win over Mississippi Sate on Thursday night. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. -- UK had plenty of reasons to pack it in on Thursday night.
With true freshman Zack Brown starting opposite Mississippi State ace Ross Mitchell, the Bulldogs had a clear advantage on paper, an advantage the Wildcats paid little attention to.
Falling behind on three separate occasions and relying on a depleted pitching staff throwing for the third time in three days, a UK victory seemed unlikely to most anyone at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
But inside the UK dugout, it was another story entirely.
"The fight was outstanding," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "It wasn't terribly clean there a few different times, but I thought the fight and the competitiveness and the spirit was outstanding."
Ever the perfectionist, Henderson was likely still thinking about some of those miscues as he fell asleep in the wee hours of Friday morning. Everyone else, however, was surely too busy reliving the way the Cats had, against all odds, just advanced to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 7-6 win in 12 innings.
"The game was an absolute war," UK shortstop Matt Reida said. "Mississippi State played an incredible game and so did we and we just kept coming at each other. It could have gone either way."
At various points, it very nearly did go the Bulldogs' way.
Mississippi State jumped out to a 4-1 lead and it was that narrow only because Brown, Sam Mahar and Zack Strecker were effective in damage control. Had Mahar not escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam when he relieved Brown in the fourth, the Bulldogs may have run away and hidden.
"What it really came down to was our pitching staff today," Reida said.
Instead of it becoming a runaway, UK and an offense coming on strong late in the season remained within striking distance.
"It really says a lot about our guys and the belief we have," Reida said. "We think that we have a really good team and there's a lot of belief, especially with our offense."
That belief first manifested itself in the form of a Micheal Thomas home run that briefly tied the game at 1-all. After MSU answered with two runs in the fifth and another in the sixth, UK had an answer of its own with an RBI double by Ka'ai Tom, a sacrifice fly by Storm Wilson and an RBI single by Thomas Bernal.
"I thought the quality of our at-bats was really good," Henderson said. "You gotta be really, really pleased with Reida offensively, Micheal Thomas. Those guys came through in a big way."
Reida was in the middle of a UK rally in the eighth to tie it at 5-apiece with the first of his two doubles in a 4-for-6 performance. Thomas, the other senior in the Wildcat lineup, was 3-for-5.
"There's some production, there's some energy, there's some vocal leadership, there's some words in the dugout," Henderson said. "All of it. Those two guys did a great job."
They were far from the only ones to contribute to the win.
Austin Cousino may have gone hitless in six at-bats, but he had the play most likely to make a few appearances on SportsCenter on Friday. Runners on first and third with only one out, C.T. Bradford sent a fly ball into center that seemed poised to plate the go-ahead run.
Cousino had other ideas, uncorking laser of a throw.
"I've seen him do it every now and then," Reida said. "It seems like every big spot Cousi will just kind of pull one out of nowhere. I was right behind second base when he threw it and as soon as he let it go out of his hand I saw the trajectory and I thought, 'Oh wow, it has a chance.' "
More than a chance, because Thomas caught the ball on the fly and slapped a tag on the speedy Derrick Armstrong to complete a double play and end the inning.
It wasn't the last time UK gunned down the potential go-ahead run at home either.
Two innings later, Cody Brown took advantage of a throwing error after a single and advanced to third with one out. The infield came in as Armstrong stepped to the plate and Reida fielded a grounder just to his left. He delivered a perfect throw home, Thomas blocked the plate and the Cats escaped again.
Spencer Jack was the beneficiary of both plays at home, but he deserves plenty of credit for UK's win too.
"The story, pitching wise, is Spencer Jack," Henderson said. "That was a phenomenal effort in this environment against that club."
Jack (4-1) came on in the ninth, allowing an unearned run right off the bat. He followed it up with three straight scoreless innings and only looked better as his pitch count climbed.
"Early on I worked off my slider a lot and I was struggling with it early," Jack said. "After I think the first or second inning I just said, 'I've just gotta let the thing go, trust it.' "
He had to place similar trust in his offense and the Wildcat batters rewarded him in the 12th.
Reida, of course, started the proceedings with an opposite-field double. He then moved to third on a wild pitch before Dorian Hairston drew a walk. Opting to load the bases, Mississippi State next intentionally walked Cousino. Kuhn struck out, forcing Henderson to make the last in a series of tough coaching decisions.
With star A.J. Reed on the bench after he was lifted for pinch runner Marcus Carson, who came around to score the game-tying run in the ninth inning, Henderson called on Zach Arnold to bat in the No. 3 spot. With the bases loaded and one out, Arnold took a simple approach to his at-bat.
"Put the ball in play," Arnold said.
The sophomore backstop did just that, singling to shortstop to score Reida and trigger a raucous celebration in foul territory near first base.
"There's nothing like it, getting to enjoy the satisfaction of a big win like that with your teammates," Jack said. "You fight so hard with them, they're like brothers at that point. I can't describe that."
Arnold was at the middle of it all.
"There's just a really good feel to the team and that's really all it was," Arnold said. "It could have been anybody up to bat and that celebration would have come out no matter what."
The joy of coming out on top in a game as competitive as Thursday's was the reason for the celebration, but the Cats will enjoy the fruits of the victory all day on Friday. Instead of playing for a spot in the semifinal, UK will enjoy a day off and await the winner of Florida and Mississippi State.
"You know how bad we need it off," Henderson said. "It'll be nice to get a day off and give the pitching a rest."
The Kentucky volleyball team spent its first full day in China on Thursday and the Wildcats have already been exposed to a brand-new world.
After a much-needed night of rest, the team met in the morning to ride a bus to a Buddhist temple in Shanghai. Touring the grounds for two-and-a-half hours, the Cats learned about the traditions of Buddhism and took plenty of pictures along the way.
They then returned to their hotel near Shanghai University for lunch. The culinary adventures continued.
Continuing the educational portion of the trip, the team spent three hours studying at Shanghai University before dinner and the first volleyball match of the trip against Shangai Juniors. The Cats got the win in a performance that pleased head coach Craig Skinner.
Good to get off to a solid start in our 1st match beating Shanghai Jrs. #UKVBtoChina
Griffin Joiner has caught every game for Kentucky in 2014 as the Wildcats prepare for a Super Regional showdown with UCLA. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
One of the most physically demanding positions in the sport, it takes a certain amount of toughness to be a catcher. Add to it the fact that your head coach is a former catcher and the position gets even more demanding.
Kentucky's Griffin Joiner fits the mold perfectly.
"Griffin is everything to the program," head coach Rachel Lawson said.
"When I went out recruiting, I'm very picky about who my catcher is, and
Griffin fit the bill in every way possible. Most importantly because the way she is. Her blue-collar work ethic,
how tough she is and the person she is on and off the field."
One of two captains for the UK softball team, Joiner has caught every pitch of every game this season for the Wildcats. The junior has started all 185 games in her career, including 178 straight behind the plate. Just two of Joiner's starts, both within the first eight games of her freshman campaign, have not come as catcher.
No one has played that many games in that timeframe, much less started behind the plate. Only sophomore Christian Stokes has played in every game in each of the past two seasons.
Joiner is Kentucky's own Iron Man.
"When everyone is looking at Griffin, she gives them a sense of confidence and toughness that, if there were another catcher behind the plate, I'm not sure the same thing would be happening right now," Lawson said.
Ask Joiner about her physical and mental toughness -- which her teammates and coaches laud her for -- and she responds like it's no big deal. She got her toughness over time through experience. After all, it's what being a catcher is. There isn't any other way.
"I'm used to it," Joiner said. "With my position I'm used to being tough. It's all I'm used to. My parents were tough on me, my coaches have always been tough on me. It's like a point guard in basketball. When you're in a leadership position, you take the heat because you're expected to be the leader and do well in those situations."
Joiner's work ethic has rubbed off on her teammates, especially sophomore pitcher Kelsey Nunley. Nunley has started 30 games in 2014, including seven of the last eight games.
"I think she's the biggest leader on the team," Nunley said. "She's really important to the team because she plays such a big role as leader. The past few weeks I've pitched a lot and my body's been through that, so I kind of have an idea of what she's going through. It rubs off on me, to stay strong like her. I hope it rubs off on everyone else because she's so tough."
Joiner doesn't let the physical aspect of her position get in the way of making plays and contributing.
She is second on the team with 53 hits and fourth with a .301 batting average. Her slugging percentage of .517 is also fourth and she has drawn a team-high 46 walks for a .451 on-base percentage, second-best among UK players.
Her numbers with the glove are even better. Joiner has made 412 putouts, which broke the school record she set in 2012. She hasn't committed an error and has thrown out 12 of 32 base runners.
When it comes to handling the pitching staff, Joiner has been able to adjust to each of UK's four pitchers this season.
In addition to Nunley's 30 starts, senior Lauren Cumbess has started 18 times and made 21 appearances, while freshmen Meagan Prince has eight starts in 21 appearances and Shannon Smith has pitched in 13 contests with seven starts.
"She makes me a better pitcher just by the comments she makes to me before, during and after the game," Nunley said. "She always tries to keep me positive, get my mind on the right track and to me, she's the most important person on the team."
While Lawson calls each pitch from the dugout, it is Joiner who is responsible for talking to the pitcher and fielders during the game. Whether its to get on the same page or to provide a word of encouragement, Joiner makes frequent visits to the circle to talk with the pitcher during a game.
Joiner's role as a captain and Lawson's background as a catcher put that much more pressure and responsibility on Joiner.
Lawson knows exactly what Joiner is going through, but that also intensifies the expectations. Especially since Lawson knows Joiner can handle the demands.
"It's the toughest position in college athletics, I think, because she happens to be my catcher and I'm pretty demanding on her," Lawson said. "She has to be mentally strong. She's also had to catch four completely different pitchers this year and she's able to give them all her best game. I think that says a lot about how intelligent she is and just how tough she is behind the plate."
For Joiner, Lawson's demands and expectations are just another aspect of the position, both as a catcher and as a captain. It's a relationship built on trust, and Joiner knows her coach knows what's best for her and her team.
"It's one of those things, you can't take it personally," Joiner said. "You have to take it and make the best of it. Find something within yourself that makes you have good results. I know she's been there and understands what its like and what it takes to be good. You just have to trust her."
While Joiner's mental and physical toughness has been something that has been built throughout her career as a catcher, Lawson has seen it in her since she first began recruiting the Hopkinsville, Ky., native.
Lawson went to see her play, and a throw from the infield went through Joiner's glove. At that point, she thought she wasn't going to recruit Joiner. Thankfully, she stayed until the end of the workout and saw the full story.
"After that outing, she came back and she had a big hole in her glove," Lawson recalled. "She had finished catching the entire workout before doing it so I knew when she did that and she buckled in and caught the ball with absolutely no pocket in her glove, I knew she was the right catcher for us."
Joiner's mental and physical toughness was apparent on that day, well before she arrived in Lexington, and it has gotten stronger years later, as UK prepares to make its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Super Regional.
With a team that prides itself on toughness, grit and the ability to bounce back easily, it's no wonder where a lot of that came from.
Look no further than the player wearing No. 13 behind the plate.
Kyle Cody allowed two runs over 5.1 innings in UK's upset of top-seeded Florida on Wednesday at the SEC Tournament. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. -- Kyle Cody's numbers on the season look solid enough.
His earned-run average has hovered under 3 throughout 2014. Cody sported a perfect 3-0 record with five saves in the regular season to boot, but his sophomore year -- in his eyes at least -- was frustrating nonetheless.
After emerging as a rotation mainstay late as a freshman, Cody expected to lock down a starting spot behind ace A.J. Reed. Instead, forearm tightness forced him to miss three weeks after his first three starts and relegated him to a relief role.
"I wanted to do more for the team, obviously, but I stuck with it and kept getting better every day, every week and just kept feeling better," Cody said.
If Wednesday is any indication, Cody could be poised to make his stint in the bullpen a distant memory.
Pitching UK to a 4-2 win over top-seeded Florida in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Cody tossed 5.1 innings -- his longest outing since February -- and allowed just two runs on four hits to move to 4-0. The 6-foot-7 right hander struck out four and yielded just one walk as Max Kuhn's 2-for-5 outing at the plate with a home run led a UK offense that scored enough to make Cody's performance stand up.
"Back to doing what we thought he was going to do at the beginning of the year, I think that's a shot of adrenaline for the kids, for the program," Henderson said. "That's the type of outing that Kyle is capable of having against that type of a team."
Cody sat comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball, but that's been the case all season. The difference for Cody was his restored confidence in the pitch he all but abandoned for six weeks.
"Probably a month ago we started getting back into it and week by week it just kept getting better and better," Cody said. "By last week, it started to look really good."
Until Cody became comfortable again with the pitch, he wasn't going to be capable of anything more than short relief.
"It was quite the tiptoe getting him back," Henderson said. "It's just been very cautious, a day at a time, don't throw any breaking balls for six weeks. All of it. For him to be able to go out today and one inning getting three outs with off-speed stuff is just fantastic."
When Cody departed in the sixth with runners on first and second and one out, it was a pitcher who's dealt with similar frustrations this season who replaced him and escaped the jam.
Chandler Shepherd missed three weeks himself with a forearm laceration and allowed 11 combined runs in three outings after his return on April 26. Including the 3.2 shutout innings he tossed to pick up his first save against Florida, Shepherd has now thrown 9.1 scoreless frames over his last three appearances.
"Had a couple of opportunities there to fold and didn't," Henderson said. "Made big pitches when it mattered. Clearly not as sharp early on in the performance as he has been, but he really showed tremendous poise and just got it done when it really mattered."
Shepherd, like Cody, views the postseason as his opportunity to put a spring that didn't go as planned squarely in the past.
"All the incidents that have happened, whatever it may be, it's over with," Shepherd said. "We gotta move forward. We're playing really well together, obviously, right now and it just says a lot about our program to overcome stuff like that and come back and play baseball the way we know we can."
Based on the way the Wildcats have played over the last three weeks, they have reason to be confident.
UK took two of three in its final two SEC series against Auburn and Georgia and now has a pair of wins over top-25 wins in two days to advance to face the winner of South Carolina and Mississippi State on Thursday night.
"Now we're into week three of turning it around," Henderson said. "It's been really positive and good and it's like anything in life that's like that. Your thoughts change, your self-talk changes and you start to view yourself a little bit different.
"Once you start that synergy or that good karma, it's a positive thing."