After the University of Kentucky returned from its opening weekend series in South Carolina last week, head coach Gary Henderson was anything but happy with his team’s performance.
The Cats finished the first weekend of the season 0-3 after surrendering 20 runs versus College of Charleston, Marshall and Miami of Ohio. But after a 3-1 win Sunday the Cats had used a 4-1 week to even their season record at 4-4.
“I think [winning the series versus Illinois-Chicago] is really important,” Henderson said following the Sunday victory. “I think what is more important than winning two out of three is playing well.”
“I think being 4-4 is a good spot considering where we were last week,” he added.
Henderson was particularly pleased with the way his pitching staff showed up during the series versus UIC.
“I think in all honesty we pitched well for 26 innings,” he said, referring to Friday’s ninth-inning blowup. “Unfortunately the one inning we didn’t, we gave the game away.”
UK sophomore right-handed pitcher Jordan Cooper was hit hard at times during his Sunday start, giving up eight hits in five and one-third innings of work. However he limited UIC to just one run in his start and worked out of jams in each of the first four innings.
“The thing about Jordan Cooper I thought today was he kept his poise,” Henderson said. “He clearly wasn’t sharp today in the strike zone. His stuff was fine. I think it was an improvement over his first outing, and I would think his next outing will be even better.”
Cooper left Sunday’s game in the sixth inning with one out and two UIC runners on base, but freshman right-handed pitcher Trevor Gott came out of the bullpen to induce a double-play to end the inning. Gott earned his first collegiate win in the game after pitching two and one-third scoreless innings.
“I was really pleased with Trevor’s performance,” Henderson said. “That’s a huge double play at that point in time.”
After usual closer Braden Kapteyn blew a save in game one of the weekend series, Henderson turned to senior left-handed pitcher Mike Kaczmarek to close out the game Sunday. Kaczmarek responded by recording the final four outs of the game while surrendering just one hit for his first career save.
After starting three games in the outfield this week, Kaczmarek returned to his normal role in the bullpen for the final two games of the weekend.
“I think [Kaczmarek] is absolutely going to be in the bullpen, but I’m not going to limit him to the ninth inning,” Henderson said. “Sometimes you can win the game in the seventh inning. He’s going to pitch when it’s important.”
Henderson noted it was difficult to manage his bullpen with both Kaczmarek and Kapteyn playing the field. Despite the 4-4 record, Henderson said he thought his team had pitched well in seven of the first eight games with just two innings in those games going the wrong way.
“It’s progress, it’s improvement,” Henderson said of UK’s recent pitching performances. “It’s something to build on.”