Kentucky Answers Call on College Baseball's Biggest Stage

Kentucky Answers Call on College Baseball's Biggest Stage

by Tim Letcher

Kentucky played in its first-ever College World Series game on Saturday. Making the program’s first trip to Omaha, there were questions from some in the national media about whether the Cats could respond on the biggest stage in the sport.

Question answered.

Kentucky used its gutsy, aggressive style of play to beat N.C. State 5-4 on Saturday at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha. Kentucky also used the long ball, hitting three home runs including Mitchell Daly’s walk-off bomb in the bottom of the 10th inning to win the game.

The Cats said they weren’t really nervous, despite being in the CWS for the first time, according to UK first baseman Ryan Nicholson.

“I think it was a little nervy,” Nicholson said. “I felt maybe I was a little more nervous for the first Super Regional game than this. But I just tried to feel like — I’ve played a lot of college baseball. There’s a lot of college games. There just happen to be a lot of people there today. I just try to look at it like that, really.”

The Cats scored a run in the bottom of the first on a Nick Lopez RBI single, then rode the arm of Trey Pooser, who pitched 6.2 innings, allowing just three runs while also striking out three. When Pooser left the game, it was tied 3-3 in the seventh inning. Pooser admitted that the UK fan base helped to calm his nerves.

“I was pretty nervous last night before I went to bed,” Pooser said. “When I woke up I was just not focused on anything but going out and executing today’s game. Obviously with our fans, they traveled all the way here. It was awesome. They helped calm my nerves, made it feel like it was a home game. It was awesome.”

N.C. State took the lead in the top of the ninth when UK closer Johnny Hummel uncorked a wild pitch, allowing the Wolfpack’s Garrett Pennington to score from third, giving N.C. State a 4-3 advantage.

However, as they have done all season, the Cats did not quit. In the bottom of the ninth, UK first baseman Ryan Nicholson hit the second pitch of the inning over the left field fence to tie the game at 4-4. For Nicholson, it was his 22nd home run of the season, just one shy of the school record for homers in a season. Daly said that the UK staff helped the team remain calm in the big situation.

“(Assistant coach Nick Ammirati) brought us together and he said, this is what we play for. Let’s have some fun. Let’s do this,” Daly said. “Don’t try to do — the whole message through the entire day, from Coach Minge and the rest of the coaching staff was don’t try to do more. Just keep being us. And like Ryan said, we have so much confidence in each other. And when he hit that home run, nobody was surprised.”

After Hummel retired the Wolfpack in order in the top of the 10th inning, Kentucky came up big once again. Devin Burkes walked to begin the inning, but Lopez flew out to center field for the first out. After Burkes was caught trying to steal second, Daly hit a home run down the left field line for a 5-4 walk-off victory for the Cats.

UK head coach Nick Mingione credits his team for being able to move on to what’s next.

“So this team, they have this unbelievable ability to just move on to the next thing, regardless, good or bad,” Mingione said. “And when you’re able to do that and you can move on quicker, you’re able to do things like today.”

That ability has propelled Kentucky to a school record 46 wins this season. And it helped the Cats rally from a ninth-inning deficit on Saturday to win their first-ever College World Series game.

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