Kentucky battles the Valparaiso Crusaders in their 2nd (Har!) game of the NCAA tournament this afternoon at 4:00 PM. Valparaiso lost to host Purdue last night this morning but enters the contest with a pitching staff in better shape than the Cats do. Kentucky will need to rebound from a soul-crushing loss in 21 innings to Kent State last night if they want to remain in the tournament and must now win 4 straight games if they want to move on to the Super Regionals next weekend.
On a somewhat personal note, last night was the first time I had ever heard UK radio play-by-play guy Neil Price and I was impressed with his work - the game is worth following just for the opportunity to listen to him call it.
Keys for the Cats:
Get over any mental weariness from last night's game. Hard to know how the team will react to last night's loss. I called it "soul-crushing" above, but the unusual nature of the game might ironically make it easier to get over. We'll just have to wait and see.
An extended outing by the starter. I assume we'll see the usual Saturday starter Jerad Grundy today, although I can't find anything on UK's website to confirm that. Grundy needs to go long - at least 7 innings - to give the rest of the pitching staff a chance to rest and prepare for the remainder of the regional should UK win this game.
An early lead of 4+ runs. Hand in hand with point #2, getting a sizable early lead can take a lot of pressure off the starter and allow him more freedom in going after opposing hitters. It would also go a long way towards taking pressure off the rest of the team.
Best case scenario is that the Cats grab an early lead, Grundy goes 8 or 9 innings, and they are able to get through this game using the minimum number of players required. If they can manage that, they will be in the best possible shape headed into Sunday with their best pitcher Corey Littrell on the mound to get them into the finals.
Luke Maile and Lucas Witt were removed from last night's game with injuries, AJ Reed had leg cramps after trying to score from first in the 18th inning. I didn't hear the early part of the game so I don't know how serious the Maile and Witt injuries are and I can't find anything about their availability for today's game. Reed deserves a day off after all the great work he did last night.
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