Baseball Cats in Solid Position After Saturday Win

Baseball Cats in Solid Position After Saturday Win

by Tim Letcher

Kentucky baseball head coach Nick Mingione had a point of emphasis for his team in this week’s Lexington Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament.

Mingione saw his teams in both 2017 and 2023 lose the second game of the regional, then have to fight their way back through the loser’s bracket to win the regional. Both of those UK teams were able to do just that, but it was difficult task in both instances.

On Saturday afternoon at Kentucky Proud Park, this year’s Cats did not follow that path, as Kentucky beat Illinois 6-1 behind huge efforts from starting pitcher Trey Pooser, left fielder Ryan Waldschmidt and first baseman Ryan Nicholson.

Mingione was admittedly happy to accomplish yet another feat that puts his team in an advantageous position.

“Yes. I told (wife) Christen, it took me four tries: ’06, ’17, ’23, ’24,” Mingione said. “It took me four tries. Happy. Just another thing that we haven’t done before. Still obviously have a lot of baseball left. But yes, monkey off my back. It is gone.”

Why is it so difficult to win in this particular round? Mingione has a good answer to that question.

“This time of year more than likely you’re going to play a champion of some sort,” Mingione said. “So, first game, we played a champion. They had won. They were champions in their league, right, today. This is the Big Ten championship. It is not easy. When you get to this level and you get to the winner’s bracket, which we’ve been able to do, you’re going to face a good team. You’re going to face a good team.”

And what does it take to win when playing such high-level competition?

“It’s going to take a game like today to where you’re going to have to pitch at a high level, you’re going to have to defend at a high level, and you’re going to have to execute offensively at a really high level, and if you don’t, you won’t win,” Mingione said. “We did that. We did all three of those today. We did all three of those today, and that’s what it was going to take to put us in this position.”

Nicholson’s two-run home run in the second inning gave the Cats a lead that they would never relinquish. The Louisville native knows that winning, and especially doing so while using just two pitchers, was huge for the Cats.

“I think the biggest thing is probably that we used two guys today,” Nicholson said. “I think it really sets us up for the rest of the weekend. Just what Poos did today was absolutely spectacular and Hags coming in behind him. We have a lot of fresh guys in the pen now that we have, so that’s probably the biggest takeaway from today’s game at least.”

Pooser, who pitched seven innings and allowed just one run, was pleased that he could provide the start that Kentucky needed.

“Yeah, felt like just filling up the zone. I was trying to get ahead as much as possible, and fastball changeup combo was working really well today. Didn’t really have a feel for my curveball as much, but the fastball changeup really played today.”

Kentucky will face the winner of Sunday’s Indiana State-Illinois game. The winner of that one will have to win two games tomorrow just to stay alive. Kentucky needs just one win to move on to the super regionals, and that’s why winning on Saturday was so important.

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