Lexington Baseball Regional: Meet the Teams

Lexington Baseball Regional: Meet the Teams

by Tim Letcher

Beginning on Friday, Kentucky plays host to the Lexington Regional of the 2024 NCAA Baseball Tournament. The Cats, seeded second overall in the event, welcome three opponents to Kentucky Proud Park for a double-elimination regional.

Here is a closer look at the four teams in the Lexington portion of the field.

Kentucky (40-14, 22-8 Southeastern Conference; RPI 3; KPI 2)

UK won a share of the SEC regular season title for just the second time in school history. The Cats’ number two seed is the highest in school history. Kentucky started the season 12-1 and won 15 of its first 16 games in SEC play. UK has won 40 games in a season for the eighth time in school history and is hosting a regional for the fourth time (2006, 2017, 2023, 2024).

First-team All-SEC designated hitter Nick Lopez leads Kentucky with a .369 batting average. Ryan Waldschmidt is second on the team in average (.357), home runs (13) and stolen bases (23). First baseman Ryan Nicholson leads the Cats with 18 home runs while second baseman Emilien Pitre hit .308 and stole a team-high 24 bases.

The UK pitching rotation includes right-hander Trey Pooser, who is 5-1 with a 4.02 ERA. Another righty, Mason Moore, is 8-3 with a 5.40 ERA. Left-hander Dominic Niman is 8-4 with a 5.94 ERA. Closer Johnny Hummel has a 3-0 record and a team-high six saves this season.

Indiana State (42-13, 22-5 Missouri Valley Conference; RPI 10; KPI 28)

ISU won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title and was projected by some outlets to be a national seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Sycamores have an RPI of 10 and have won six games against power conference teams. Indiana State lost its first game in the MVC Tournament and fought its way through the loser’s bracket to the championship game before falling to Evansville.

Junior catcher Luis Hernandez leads the ISU offense in both batting average (.369) and RBIs (75) and is second with 22 home runs. Junior shortstop Randal Diaz hits .357 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs. Senior third baseman Mike Sears leads the Sycamores with 23 home runs and has knocked in 71 runs.

ISU has a pair of solid starting pitchers. Junior right-hander Luke Hayden is 7-2 this season with a 3.67 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 73.2 innings. Fellow junior right-hander Brennyn Cutts is 6-1 with a 3.89 ERA. Junior righty Simon Gregersen leads ISU with seven saves while senior lefty Zach Davidson is 5-1 out of the bullpen with three saves and a 2.41 ERA.

Illinois (34-19, 18-6 Big Ten Conference; RPI 48; KPI 62)

The Illini won the Big Ten regular season title for the first time since 2015 after winning their final four conference contests. However, IU would fall to Penn State and Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. After starting the season 5-10, Illinois went 29-9 the rest of the season, including a nine-game winning streak in April.

Junior catcher Camden Janik, who was named first team All-Big Ten, leads Illinois with a .368 batting average. The Illini hit for power and are 25th in the country in home runs with 103. Five Illinois players have hit double-digit home runs – Ryan Moerman (18), Drake Westcott (16), All-Big Ten designated hitter Jacob Schroeder (14), Vytas Valincius (12) and Brody Harding (10).

Cooper Omans is the ace for Illinois on the mound. The lefty has a 4-1 record with a 3.73 ERA. Senior right-hander Jack Crowder leads the Illini with six wins against just two losses. He sports a 5.25 ERA. Senior righty Joe Glassey is 1-1 on the season with a team-high eight saves.

Western Michigan (32-21, 19-11 Mid-American Conference; RPI 128; KPI 150)

The Broncos rolled through the MAC Tournament, posting three convincing victories against the top teams in the league. WMU blanked Ball State 8-0 to open play, then took down top-seeded Bowling Green State 11-0 to make the championship game. There, the Broncos beat Ball State again, this time 10-3, finishing off a weekend where they outscored the opposition 29-3.

WMU is a talented offensive team with a .316 team batting average, which ranks 12th nationally. Senior first baseman Cade Sullivan leads the Broncos with a .397 batting average, which is 20th in the country. Junior designated hitter CJ Richmond hits .384, which is 39th in the country. Junior outfielder Dylan Nevar leads the Broncos with 15 home runs and 68 RBIs.

On the mound, senior Nolan Vicek is 5-3 with a 4.15 ERA. In the MAC Tournament, Vicek went seven innings against BGSU, allowing three hits and no runs in seven innings while striking out 10. Senior Brady Miller is 6-5 with a 6.48 ERA. The right-hander has allowed just three earned runs in his last three starts, covering 18.1 innings of work.

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