No. 12 Kentucky, Louisville Play First of Two Rivalry Games

No. 12 Kentucky, Louisville Play First of Two Rivalry Games

by Tim Letcher

LEXINGTON, Ky. – On March 8, the Kentucky baseball team was 12-1 and seemed to be playing really good baseball. However, a weekend series against Kennesaw State did not go exactly as planned.

The Owls came to Kentucky Proud Park and pounded the Cats 13-1 on Friday and 10-2 on Saturday. UK (24-4, 8-1 SEC) was able to salvage the final game of the series with a 5-2 victory on Sunday. However, it was then that UK head coach Nick Mingione challenged his squad.

“I can tell you exactly what happened because I was really direct with them,” Mingione said. “We lost the Friday game, we lost the Saturday game, we won on Sunday but I got after them on Sunday. I didn’t get after them on Friday or Saturday after a loss. But I think I was more mad after the win because we just didn’t play with energy, effort, edge, real toughness. We weren’t playing Kentucky baseball.”

What exactly does playing Kentucky baseball mean to the UK head man?

“We’re at our best when we are just competing, we’re focused on what we’re trying to do, it’s not about the opponent and we’re in every pitch with each other,” Mingione said. “There is a level of focus and edge and toughness and real, true belief. And we didn’t have it. And I really challenged them and, to their credit, they handled it. They had a meeting, they talked about it, they figured it out.”

Since losing to Kennesaw State on that Saturday, Kentucky has gone 12-1, including 8-1 in the Southeastern Conference. That includes a three-game, road sweep at Ole Miss over the weekend, a series in which the Cats outscored the Rebels 37-13.

“The Cats had a good weekend,” Mingione said. “Obviously, going down to that environment, I’ve played there for many years, all of the times I’ve ever been there, I don’t believe I’ve ever done what we did last weekend. To win all three games against a really quality SEC opponent is big.”

Now, Kentucky faces intrastate rival Louisville at Kentucky Proud Park on Tuesday (7 p.m., SEC Network).

“They didn’t have the year they wanted to last year, you knew they were going to be hungry this year. They’re a good team. They are extremely well-coached, they’re offensive, when they’re going best, they’re pitching at a high level. They’re going to be hungry.”

“Obviously, everybody knows the importance of this game, everybody understands. Not only for the players in the program and the coaches but for the people in the state. This is for bragging rights. You want to be able to say that my team beat yours and so I know we’ll come in ready to play.”

UK shortstop Grant Smith is originally from New Mexico but it didn’t take him long to figure out how important the UK-U of L rivalry is.

“Not long. Just being here for football season and basketball season, before I had played my first season here, I understood the culture and how big of a rivalry it was. It’s awesome.”

The Cats will look to continue playing “Kentucky Baseball” on Tuesday night, and will continue to draw on what they learned from the Kennesaw State series in early March.



Tuesday, April 2 vs. Louisville

7 p.m. ET; Lexington, Ky. (Kentucky Proud Park)

Radio: UK Sports Network (98.5 locally) | Live: SEC Network


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