Kentucky Baseball, Softball Programs Optimistic About 2024 Seasons
It may be only the second week of February, but in the world of college athletics, it’s time for spring sports to begin. On Tuesday, the Kentucky baseball and softball teams met the media to discuss their upcoming seasons.
For UK baseball head coach Nick Mingione, the 2024 season will be about building upon the successes of 2023. Kentucky won 40 games last season, hosted an NCAA Tournament regional for the third time ever and advanced to the Super Regionals for only the second time in the history of the program. Now, Mingione wants the Cats to take another step forward.
“It’s been a challenge, when you look at that in general, with our program. But having guys who have been there and done that is so important and to be able to have some returning pieces is really important,” Mingione said. “And that’s what we have this year. Does that mean we’re going to be able to do that again? No. There’s no guarantee for that. You’re going to have to earn it every day. But to have solid pieces back on the mound, defensively and in the box, is really important and we believe we have that this year.”
Mingione wants the UK program to be one that annually gets to the postseason, not one that might be called a sleeper.
“Until we just do it every year, year in and year out, and we keep showing up there, maybe (being called a sleeper) is fair,” Mingione said. “That’s up to us to change that narrative. A sleeper? They can say whatever they want, as long as we make it.”
Kentucky returns a number of important players from last year’s team, including catcher Devin Burkes, shortstop Grant Smith and pitcher Mason Moore.
The Kentucky softball team made its 14th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season. However, the Cats did not make it out of the Evanston Regional and finished with a 31-22-1 record.
Head coach Rachel Lawson, in her 17th season at the helm of the program,
“Our theme this year is to level up,” Lawson said. “We’ve had a lot of success at the University of Kentucky and we love our success but you’re never satisfied unless you’re standing in Oklahoma City (at the Women’s College World Series).”
Lawson likes that she has a team that can beat opponents in multiple ways.
“We have a great balance this year. We’re returning a lot of very experienced players who are very good,” Lawson said. “We have great seniors, we have great returners and then our freshman class is elite. When you add Jaden Vickers from the portal, she was like the missing piece. I think we’re strong in all areas.”
The standout for the Cats is All-American shortstop Erin Coffel, who will almost certainly break the UK career records for both home runs and runs batted in, and maybe more, this season. Lawson thinks Coffel can be even better this year.
“As far as what the future holds, she’s a lot better this year than she was a year ago,” Lawson said. “Last year, it was very easy to get her out during the winter. This year, she’s probably hit five home runs in four scrimmages off of the pitches that used to get her out. So, I think she’s going to be very good. Her shortstop play is not ever recognizable to where she was before. She’s playing at an elite level. So, I think she can be better.”
Both the UK baseball and softball teams are looking to take another positive step forward this season, and both coaches believe they have the players in place to do just that.