It was obvious in their 4-2 first round loss to South Carolina that the Batcats had failed to get the ground ball and line drive base hits that the coaching staff had been preaching during Tuesday night's practice.
"This was disappointing, but we fought hard throughout the whole game," Sean Coughlin said during Wednesday's post game press conference. "We needed to make key adjustments at the plate and we didn't do that today. We knew this ballpark plays big. We are going to come out tomorrow a different team and we are going to be ready to play."
Sophomore pitcher Tommy Warner pitched the best game of his career, only to see a lack of offensive production spoil his outing. Trying to hold onto a miniscule 1-0 lead in the top of the ninth inning, Warner gave up a two run home run to pinch hitter Jon Willard that would eventually lead to UK's defeat.
"Obviously, it is pretty disappointing the way things went," Coach John Cohen said. "Tommy [Warner] threw a heck of ball game. This is a baseball game and that's the way things go. That's how it works in this league - there is a hair of room between the No. 1 team in the league and the No. 12 team. Our guys kept fighting and scratching the entire game. We had a chance to win the game there at the end and things just didn't happen. We had too many fly balls, and this is a ground ball and line drive ballpark. Credit South Carolina for the job they did on the mound today."
It is no secret that the long ball has been the largest part of Kentucky's offense. Both of UK's runs in the loss to the Gamecocks came off of solo home runs. But in a field that has deep dimensions like Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, a reliance on home runs for offense will lead to disaster.
But that does not mean the Batcats are doomed. Leading the conference in sacrifice bunts with 59, Kentucky has proven that they are capable of being successful playing small ball.
In their first round game against Georgia, Vanderbilt put on a clinic on how to be successful in this year's tournament. Vanderbilt executed hit and runs that were opportunistic and bunted well all afternoon en route to a 9-4 win over the red-hot Bulldogs. After the win, Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin spoke about playing in Hoover.
"Teams that have power and play in small parks, there's a drastic change once you get here," Corbin said. "You have to play defense. It changes the game. You have all that foul space and all the space behind the catcher. You have to play errorless ball and pitch well."
Kentucky pitched it well on Wednesday and played solid defense. It was their power-minded offense that let them down.
In their win, Vanderbilt tallied 16 hits, 14 of which were singles. Of their nine runs, eight were plated by RBI singles.
If they want to avoid a two-and-out performance in the 2006 SEC Tournament, they will have to refocus their offense and use an approach that better suits the confines of Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. In a dominant performance, Vanderbilt produced the blueprint for success there.
On Thursday at 10 a.m. CT (11 a.m. EST) Kentucky and Georgia, the two hottest teams in the conference, will meet. And the loser will be going home.
Coach Cohen was not sure who was going to throw in Thursday morning's elimination match at the post game press conference. But even with a good pitching performance and solid defense, the Batcats will have to make a big offensive adjustment if they hope to advance in the SEC Tournament.