'Team' Concept Working Wonders for Baseball Cats

'Team' Concept Working Wonders for Baseball Cats

by Tim Letcher

Since his arrival as the head coach of the Kentucky baseball team, Nick Mingione has often used the phrase “the strength of our team is our team”. It’s something Mingione wants his team to believe and that he instills in his players.

This weekend, the Cats showed off that mentality in a three-game, Southeastern Conference sweep over Alabama. UK finished off the sweep on Sunday with a 10-1 win in the series finale. The Cats outscored the Tide 23-2 on the weekend, including 17-1 on Saturday and Sunday. Kentucky is now 27-4 on the season and a school-record 11-1 in SEC play.

There’s little doubt that Mingione was happy with the Cats’ performance this weekend because it truly was a team effort. Kentucky used strong pitching, outstanding fielding and timely hitting to top an Alabama team that was ranked 12th in the country heading into the weekend.

Friday night, it was the pitching of Trey Pooser and Travis Smith and the hitting of Nolan McCarthy that propelled the Cats to victory. On Saturday, Dominic Niman through a complete game shutout while Grant Smith and Ryan Waldschmidt hit homers. On Sunday, starting pitcher Mason Moore went seven innings, allowing just one run while Ryan Nicholson hit a pair of home runs and Emilien Pitre and Smith each had three hits in the win. Those results pleased Mingione.

“I’m just really proud of our guys. We talk all the time that the strength of our team is our team. That’s what we’ve been,” Mingione said. “For us to be at our best, we have to pitch and defend at a really high level. That’s what we did this weekend. Going back to Friday, we had a great start obviously yesterday and I thought Mason was fantastic.”

Getting production from multiple players just furthers the team-first mindset. That happened again on Sunday.

“We just pitched and defended at a really high level,” Mingione said. “Obviously, when you’re doing that an, offensively, we had a ton of hits today, a ton of different things we did. For us to do that, we have to have production up and down the lineup.”

Moore believes that the Cats are playing for each other.

“This team has a lot of confidence,” Moore said. “Everybody wants to win for each other. There’s no one selfish on this team. I think that goes a long way when it comes to SEC play.”

Nicholson likes that the Cats have started strong but he also knows that there’s a lot of season left.

“Yeah, it’s very cool. Everyone in our program enjoys what we’re getting right now and how we’re doing it,” Nicholson said. “It’s awesome to start 11-1 but we want to keep it going and we want to finish strong, too. It definitely feels awesome.”

Mingione has been around some teams that have done big things, including playing in the College World Series, and he believes these Cats have something in common with those types of teams.

“Our team, the way they support each other, I cannot say it enough,” Mingione said. “It’s just a special group. A lot of things going our way, making our own breaks but we’re competing at a high level and having a great time. The thing I’m most proud of them about is their commitment to one another. The championship teams I’ve been part of, there’s a real commitment to each other. That’s what we’re doing.”

That being said, Mingione knows that there are plenty of games left to play and now is no time to celebrate everything the Cats have already accomplished.

“We tell them that this win is going to expire at midnight. It’s over. And each day is a new day,” Mingione said. “We shared a quote with them on Thursday about making each day a masterpiece. That’s what we’ll do again tomorrow. And we’ll remind them, part of our foundation of what we’re doing here with our culture is, we do have to have continuous improvement. You don’t have to be perfect but you do have to get better.”

These Cats are off to a great start to the 2024 season but they’re also not satisfied with what they have accomplished so far.

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