Cougars oust 'Cats; dream season concludes

Fans filed out of Cliff Hagan Stadium for the final time in 2006 on Sunday night, as what was a magical ride for baseball fans in the bluegrass came to an end. Post-game comments and interviews following the Wildcats crushing defeat by College of Charleston.

The team that won the most games in school history and claimed UK's first ever SEC Championship could not overcome a first inning grand slam from the College of Charleston. The Cougars beat Kentucky 7-4, eliminating them from the NCAA Regional and ending their historic season.

Already up 2-0 in the first inning, Cougar right fielder Phillip Coker dug into the box with the bases loaded. On a 3-2 pitch, Coker made solid contact and lifted the ball up and over the fence. The homerun was only the seventh of the senior's career, and it was no doubt his biggest.

"I don't hit many of them, so it was great," Coker said. "It was 3-2 with the bases loaded, so I knew he had to come with a fastball. I got lucky enough to hit it well."

The grand slam capped off a six-run first inning that proved to be a momentum killer to the Wildcats. Kentucky entered Sunday night's contest having won two straight NCAA games after rediscovering their offense.

Zach Dials took over for Tennyson in the second inning, and held the Cougars to just one more run over the final eight innings. But his appearance would come too late to salvage UK's season. After falling behind, the Wildcat hitters simply could not get the timely hit they needed to take control of the game.

With two men on in the bottom of the second, Antone DeJesus hit a three run home run that gave the Wildcats life, but in the third inning Kentucky squandered an opportunity to pull even, failing to push any runs across after loading the bases with only one out.

"Every time we got runners in scoring position, we just didn't have the at bats we wanted to," head coach John Cohen said. "And even when we did have the at bats we wanted to we hit the ball right at people. But that is the nature of the game, and that is just kind of how it works."

Kentucky would get one more shot with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, but Sean Coughlin popped out to first base.

Kentucky stranded a season-high 15 base runners. A combined effort from Charleston relievers Quinn Monsma and Josh McLaughlin threw a scoreless final seven innings, as the Batcats watched their historic 2006 season reach its conclusion with a 7-4 NCAA Regional defeat.

Tennyson gave up six earned runs on six hits, including the grand slam to Coker, in the only inning he logged. It was obvious early on that Tennyson, who was making his first start in two weeks, simply was not sharp with his pitches.

"His first 14 pitches were pretty good," Cohen said, "but then after that he sort of got underneath. Every fastball was just as straight as an arrow. That is not the way he pitches."

"When he pitches well for us, and he pitched Friday night almost every weekend in the SEC…and that is why we went with him tonight, because he had been in this sort of atmosphere before in our league…he can create some sink and get to the bottom of the strike zone. He just did not do that tonight, and we couldn't get him out of there soon enough."

The College of Charleston advances to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament, and will play a three game series against Georgia Tech in Atlanta next weekend.

And although the season ended disappointingly for the Batcats, nothing can diminish the accomplishments made by these players.

The Wildcats finished the season with 42 wins, the most in school history, and won the school's first SEC Championship after going 20-10 in league play, becoming the first team to complete a worst-to-first turnaround in conference history (UK finished the 2005 season with a 7-22 SEC record). Kentucky also climbed as high as 4th in the polls, the highest any Wildcat team has ever reached.

Senior third baseman Michael Bertram, who played in his final game in a Kentucky uniform, reflected on what being a part of this record breaking season has meant.

"I take some serious pride in this year," he said. "This group of guys we have on this team have changed the face of baseball in this state, in this university and in this town, and it has just been an unbelievable experience."

"Ten years down the road I am going to be able to look back and say I was on that team and that we were the reason why Kentucky baseball got put back on the map and we turned the corner for this university."

Though it is unsure who all will be leaving, certainly the make-up of next year's Batcat team will be very different. UK ushers in 17 new players next spring as a part of what many are calling the best recruiting class to ever grace the Bluegrass.

But the 2006 University of Kentucky Wildcat baseball team is going to be one hell of a tough act to follow.

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