In the aftermath of Kentucky's exit from the NCAA Baseball Tournament last weekend, there was still disappointment and frustration from a club that felt like it was given a raw deal by the NCAA Selection Committee. The disputed game-winning home run that eliminated the Wildcats didn't help but the larger issue was the lack of being selected as a regional host site.
Freshman A.J. Reed threw nine innings of relief in UK's 21-inning loss to Kent State
The morning of Kentucky's last game athletics director Mitch Barnhart pulled no punches in discussing how he felt about the NCAA's decision making process. When he confronted NCAA officials at U.S. Steel Yard after the final out of the season, he made those points clear.
“I think the committees in total, and I'm not just talking about baseball, need to be very, very careful,” Barnhart said. “They seem to be picking and choosing their arguments based on whatever is convenient at the moment.
“When it's a team that doesn't have a really good non-conference RPI they point to that. When you have a really good strength of schedule but didn't win enough games against that tough schedule they say you didn't win enough games against the teams that you scheduled that were strong. We had 28 non-conference and we were 25-3. I think the committees need to be careful they're not picking arguments that are convenient.”
By now you know what the Cats' resumé showed: They were the first team in the nation to reach 40 victories, finished with 20 wins against SEC competition, won seven of 10 series inside the conference and went 6-3 against national seeds Florida, LSU and South Carolina, all of whom advanced to this weekend's Super Regionals.
Yet, the Cats were passed over as a host in favor of Miami, which promptly exited the tournament after being outscored 22-4 in two games. Barnhart said his quest for answers revealed a different reason each time he asked someone involved in the selection process.
“I asked one committee member, 'Had we won one more game at Mississippi State would we have been hosting?'” Barnhart said. “He said, 'Well, I think so.' So you're telling me that the co-champion of the SEC would have maybe not hosted? That would have been even more shocking to think that could have even been part of the conversation.
“We were also told they were worried about geographic locations. One person told me they considered us a sun belt team. I find that very interesting. They're looking to make sure northern sites were represented. I would have always considered us a northern site. If we're a sun belt team then explain to me how all the teams passing through on their way to the south don't stop in Lexington to ensure they get games in. If they're looking for northern teams they should have given Purdue one and us one and worked it out. There were enough (northern) teams to disperse because they sent teams all over.”
Kentucky officials were so sure the school would be hosting a regional they had added temporary seating to Cliff Hagan Stadium and put all operational pieces in place for the four-team mini-tournament. Barnhart said he didn't think the size of Cliff Hagan Stadium played a significant role in the committee's decision but still couldn't come to grips with how the Cats were passed over.
There was no doubt the Cats were frustrated by the size of U.S. Steel Yard, which is a professional independent league park.There were numerous balls hit that would have been home runs in every other stadium Kentucky played in this season.
“We hit several balls that would have gone out in our park but so did the other teams,” UK coach Gary Henderson said. “We probably hit more than them but it goes both ways. In terms of frustration, the moment yeah when you're running that ball off the wall. Our kids didn't hang on to that. You've got to play to the park. That's the nature of our sport.”
While Barnhart acknowledged there is no use playing the what-if game he did suggest he will seek further clarification from the NCAA to avoid such a fate in future seasons. For now, the disappointment remains.
“Certainly, we were surprised,” Barnhart said. “I was disappointed for our guys and Gary. That was a real surprise to us. I felt like we deserved to host. We had prepared for that. It was a surprise.”
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