Zach Logue had seen this movie and he didn’t like the way it ended.
He and his Wildcat teammates were in the hunt for a Southeastern Conference championship midway through last season but then melted away.
It tasted bad. They don’t want any more.
“Halfway through the season last year we were in the same spot,” says the lefthander. “We were in the race. We were at the top of the SEC.”
Indeed, the Wildcats were 8-4 and ranked #18 when they visited fifth-ranked Vandy. They managed a victory on Sunday but it was the beginning of a stretch that saw them lose 10 of 15 games and settle into the middle of the conference pack. That’s where mediocrity lives.
“That was addressed this year,” says Logue.
“We addressed it,” says catcher Troy Squires. “The coaching staff didn’t address it, it was more the players. Some of the experienced guys said, ‘Hey – we’re not going down that road.’ “
No, they’re not. When they found themselves at the intersection of Same Old Thing and SEC Championship Contender, they took the road less traveled, winning games they might have lost in the past.
Take Friday’s setback to Georgia, for instance. The Cats were leading 2-1 when they committed two ninth-inning errors and lost, 5-3.
“Last year if we lost that first game we would probably have thought we were out of it,” said rightfielder Tristan Pompey, who dropped a routine fly ball in the ninth. “I think this year’s team is much stronger as a team. If someone messes up, the whole team is there to pick you up, not just one or two people. The whole team is there.”
Pompey is just one of more than a dozen UK players having the best season of his young life, which is why the Wildcats are 15-9 in conference play, a game out of at least a share of first with two weekends left in the regular season. Squires is another.
“We wanted to overcome that hurdle and be able to finish the season strong,” Squires says. “To be there at this point of the season is really special.”
And when you’re at this point, this late in your schedule, the real fun begins – and it includes scoreboard-watching. Seven teams could still win at least a share of the SEC and if you’re in this chase, you HAVE to look.
“We’re all gonna look, right?” says head coach Nick Mingione. “We’re gonna sit here and act like we don’t look? There’s no way. We look. But in the heat of the competition, during a game, the focus should always be about us. “
Lesson learned. His players are saying the right things off the field as they do the right things on it.
Pompey: “You’ve got to watch the teams that we’re tied with or the teams that are close to us. It is a race at the end of the day, right? We’re trying to win the SEC, win the tournament, win it all, so…”
Squires: “We’re competitive in that locker room so we’re going to keep up with it but we’re not going to get too caught up in it. We’re more worried about what we’re doing – our games.”
Logue: “You do. It’s impossible not to look at the scoreboard. You want to win and get that ring on your finger. It’s really tough not to look, but we really, really try to focus on what we’re doing and how we’re preparing because we ultimately believe that if we do that, things are going to take care of themselves.”
The series loss to Georgia wounded the Wildcats’ chances. It’s nothing they can’t overcome, but they’re going to need some help along the way. You can keep an eye on the scoreboard right now, but keeping the other one on the matter at hand is vital.
An SEC championship, a deep run in the NCAA tournament, perhaps a trip to Omaha – it’s all out there. So you can’t blame them for at least sneaking a peek at what everybody else is doing. Remember – this time last year, they were sinking into the nothingness of being left out of the NCAA tournament.
What’s happening right now is a lot more fun.
“Incredibly fun,” says Pompey. The latter stages of last season became drudgery, he said. Now, he can’t wait to get to the ballpark, every day. “I love it,” he says. “I love it.”
“It’s a blast,” says Squires. “School’s out. Baseball – it’s the best time of your life.”