Ignore the thudding sound you heard this week. Ignore the calls from the bleachers. Ignore the siren song of tradition ... Kentucky tied for the SEC title, and they deserve to host an NCAA baseball regional.
So says none other than lobbying UK coach John Cohen, the SEC's unanimous Coach of the Year. While noting that there are many factors that go into the decision -- to be announced Sunday at 3:30 ET -- the UK head man felt his team had proven itself with its play over the course of the year, not disproven its worthiness with its first three-game losing streak of the season.
The SEC Player of the Year, Ryan Strieby, agreed:
I would argue additionally that it would be in the NCAA's best interests to foster burgeoning college baseball interest at an up-and-comer like Kentucky, who showed much better attendance this season, and whose home state routinely produces some of the conference's best talent.
One prognosticator, Kendall Rogers of the Rosenblatt Report, a Rivals publication, has consistently slotted the Cats in the top tier.
While there are geographic, economic and stretegic elements the committee has to weigh, I would argue that one it does not have to weigh is the Bat Cats' worthiness.
Kentucky tied Alabama for the top SEC mark (20-10), a league which has five teams in the Baseball America end of regular season top 25, including three in the top 10. Only the ACC has as many top teams, and even it doesn't have the number of top 25 caliber teams. The SEC also has Vandy and South Carolina, who each made tournament runs.
My point? Winning the toughest conference in the country demands some respect. Kentucky had the most wins in the conference, and were in the top 5 overall in wins in the nation (42). They were stellar at home, and shouldn't be punished for losing a close game in the opener and a second game to a top 10 BA poll foe.
The NCAA tournament committee has many things to ponder, and no doubt could slide a Texas, Cal St. or Alabama in there, teams accustomed to hosting regionals and with traditional power draws. But it could also think outside the box, make a statement and reward a school rededicating itself to the program.
Cats baseball fans can only cross their fingers and hope that a season is worth more than its final two games.
Update [2006-5-29 11:49:36 by JL Blue]:
Yesterday, the University of Kentucky was picked to host an NCAA Regional for the first time in school history, joining Pepperdine in California as first time hosts.
The brackets are out, and No. 1 seed Kentucky faces #4 Ball State (37-20) in the opener of a four-team regional in Lexington. The tournament format is double-elimination, and the other teams in the Cats' bracket are #3 Notre Dame (45-15-1) and #2 College of Charleston (43-15).
Games begin on Friday, June 2 at Cliff Hagan Stadium.