When Kentucky opens play Tuesday morning against Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament, the mission is clear.
The consensus opinion is that UK must at least make a deep run into the tournament, if not win the whole event, to advance to NCAA regional play.
How will Coach Gary Henderson deal with his players under such pressure?
“When you show up and you’re 11-and-19 (in SEC play), I think it’s pretty clear to everybody that whether or not you’ve got to win it or you’ve got to win four or whatever it may be, (the assignment) is pretty clear,” Henderson said Monday during a coaches’ teleconference. “So I’m not sure I’ve got to manage a lot of that. I think it’s pretty clear to our guys.
“We’ll go about it the same way we always do. We need to win tomorrow morning and then we can worry about what we’re doing on Wednesday. If it goes down to sitting down and telling them that we’ve got to bite off four wins or five wins or whatever it is, I won’t do that.
“We need to play well. We need to pitch well. All of our coaching cliches are absolutely true. We need to do those tomorrow morning and, when that’s over, we’ll worry about it. But I would say we have to have a significant run.”
UK, 30-24 overall, is seeded 11th in the 12-team tournament at Hoover, Ala. Tuesday’s 10:30 a.m. game against Ole Miss is an elimination game. The winner will go on to meet third-seeded Arkansas in the double-elimination portion of the tourney, Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
The Wildcats will start senior left-hander Jerad Grundy (6-5, 4.75 ERA) against Ole Miss. Grundy has made 13 starts. tossing 77.2 innings, walking just 20 and striking out 60. Over his last two starts, Grundy has a 1-0 record and a 1.64 ERA, allowing just nine hits and two walks in 11 innings. In two career starts against Ole Miss, Grundy is 0-2 with a 13.06 ERA.
Ole Miss (36-20, 15-15 SEC) is hitting .278, with a .369 slugging a .361 on-base percentage, belting 23 homers and stealing 43 bases. On the mound, Ole Miss has a strong 3.15 ERA, walking 202 and striking out 403 in 503 innings.
Kentucky has hit .256 as a team, slugging .363 and reaching base at a .361 clip. UK has belted 36 homers and stolen 56 bases. UK’s mound corps has a 3.56 ERA, allowing a .333 on-base percentage and a .363 slugging mark, striking out 370 and walking just 144 in 487.1 innings.