After arriving in Hoover, Alabama on Tuesday evening, it was all smiles from players and coaches as the team took brief infield and batting practice. Come Wednesday morning at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. CT), it will be all business, as the Cats look to advance past South Carolina in the first game of the 2006 SEC Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
"We're not really caught up in the whole tournament thing," senior Michael Bertram said. "Our first time here really is a big deal but we don't want to take it like that. We are just out to win a baseball game. We've already played 55 of these all year long and we are ready and excited to play another one. It's just another baseball game."
And for the first time in school history, UK enters the first round as conference champion. With the record-setting successes they have seen this season, the Batcats aren't changing any part of the way they play the game for the postseason.
"That's what gets you into trouble," Bertram said about making adjustments for tournament play, "trying to reach back for a little something extra. We just have to do what we do best, and that is play on an even keel and play with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement."
The Wildcats swept South Carolina earlier this year, and Coach John Cohen will call on sophomore Lexington native Tommy Warner to nail down UK's fourth straight win over the Gamecocks. Cohen made the decision to start Warner because he did not want to throw any of his normal SEC starters on short rest. Kentucky just finished up a series against Georgia on Saturday.
Though Warner has not made an SEC start in his career, Cohen is confident that he can get the job done, especially in a deep ball park like Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
"We have a different guy on the mound, Tommy Warner, which is going to be different," Cohen said. "He is more of a fly ball pitcher and we feel like playing more of an outfield game in this ballpark is beneficial to us."
"We have a lot to prove as the University of Kentucky, but we don't want to jeopardize our top three guys. Tommy, if he can get us four to six innings in this ballgame, we are going to feel satisfied with that."
And Cohen has given himself a lot of options for after those four to six innings.
"Matt Robinson could be a factor, and all of our other bullpen guys could be a factor. We brought 12 bullpen guys on this trip, and we did that purposefully because we want to use all of those guys."
With the first pitch scheduled to be thrown at 10 a.m. CT, the Batcats have been given a 10 p.m. curfew to make sure they are sharp come game time. Junior second baseman John Shelby was asked what he was going to do after practice.
"Go get something healthy to eat, and we have to get rest. It has been a long trip and we have to prepared, both mentally and physically."
"We have to start it off with a bang," Shelby said. "Tomorrow is going to come down to who wants to be up that early, and what its going to take to win this tournament is games like that." With a win, the Wildcats will play at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Should Kentucky lose they will have to play a second straight 10 a.m. game on Thursday. Kentucky's opponent will be either Georgia or Vanderbilt.
The last time Kentucky made the eight-team SEC Tournament was 2000. They faced South Carolina in the first round of that tournament as well…and won.