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No. 3 Cats drop series to Florida

All parties concerned knew No. 3 Kentucky starter Jerad Grundy threw his best career outing Friday against Florida. The lefty threw 7.1 innings, artfully erasing batters from Florida’s intimidating lineup with slow grounders and stargazing fly balls. He only had two strikeouts, but that’s OK, because he walked just one.

As kind as baseball was to Grundy on Friday, it was even crueler in how it teased the Cats’ offense. UK left 10 runners on base, including six left in scoring position and three stranded on third base. No. 7 Florida scored four runs over the final two innings to win 5-1. The Gators clinched the series over UK on Friday night. The Cats, after winning their first six series in Southeastern Conference play, have now lost two series in a row and are 1-5 in their last six games.

Before last week’s series with Vanderbilt, Kentucky was second in the SEC with a .315 batting average with runners in scoring position. In the five games since, the Cats are 7-for-46 in such situations—a .152 batting average, for what it’s worth.

To see so many Cats reach base and have only one safely find home—Austin Cousino led off the bottom of the first with a hit by pitch, and he came around to score—was a bit frustrating, Grundy said.

“Yeah, but that’s just how the game of baseball goes sometimes,” Grundy said. “It really hasn’t been going our way lately, but it’ll turn eventually. We started off so hot this year, and you’re going to have to lose some games eventually. This is baseball.”

For most of the game, both teams were fighting off a similar illness, Can’t Score Syndrome, with symptoms polar opposite to each other. The Cats got runners on base and couldn’t cash them in, leaving at least one runner in scoring position stranded in five of the first six innings. During that time, four runners reached third base but didn’t score:

Michael Williams sat on third with one out in the fourth and watched as Matt Reida struck out, Cousino drew an intentional walk and Thomas McCarthy tossed a jam-shot ground out to second; Zac Zellers doubled with two out in the fifth and stole third before J.T. Riddle grounded out to short; Williams doubled to lead off the sixth before conceding an out at home on a fielder’s choice grounder to the first baseman; and Paul McConkey found third also in the sixth with two out before McCarthy rolled out to short to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Florida couldn’t even tempt itself with ill-fated runners in scoring position the way Grundy threw. Nolan Fontana led off the game with a double and came around to score. Twenty-five batters came and went before another Gator made it past first base. Casey Turgeon led off the eighth inning with a triple off the wall in right field and scored two batters later on a Josh Tobias single.

Grundy, a junior in his first year after transferring from Heartland Community College, had allowed two of his 27 faced batters to advance past first, good enough to be pegged with a losing decision, further validating that statistic’s merit to a degree comparable with that of snake oil’s medical effect or an investment with Bernie Madoff.

“We’ll end up hitting again,” head coach Gary Henderson said. “Everybody’s gone through stretches like this. It’s very encouraging. If we keep getting that starting pitching and playing solid defense, we’ll get right back where we’re supposed to be.”

Florida scored three runs in the ninth inning off a combination of relievers Alex Phillips, Tim Patterson and A.J. Reed.

The Cats have spent all season looking down on the other 11 SEC teams in most major offensive categories. Still, they lead in on-base percentage (.469), runs scored (312 in 47 games), doubles (94) and total bases (716).

To go from that extreme to the one with which Kentucky is currently faced ... it had to happen at some point, Grundy said, at least to some extent. Henderson said the key now is staying positive and getting the team to relax.

But is there a concrete way to get a team to relax?

“Oh, you’d make a lot of money (if you knew the way),” Henderson said. “The Angels would hire you.

“You just keep doing the same things that you’re doing,” he said. “There’s no magic. You just keep showing up, you stay as positive as you can, you keep working as hard as you can, you do as good as job as you can at swinging at strikes and taking balls—the absolute basics. That’s all you can do: Stay as absolutely positive as you can.”

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