Worth the wait: Cats shut down Indiana State to win Lexington Regional

Published 4:51 pm Monday, June 3, 2024

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It took longer than expected but the wait was worth it for Kentucky’s baseball team.

After a long rain delay, the Wildcats (43-14) defeated Indiana State 5-0 to win the Lexington Regional for the second straight season.

Kentucky, the overall No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, capped three straight victories with the shutout of Indiana State. 

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Kentucky advances to the Super Regional for just the third time — all under coach Nick Mingione — and will host the second leg of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The Wildcats will play the winner of the Corvallis Regional beginning Friday or Saturday in Lexington. Oregon State and Cal-Irvine played late Sunday to determine the winner of the Corvallis Region.

“This is a special team and you all know that,” Mingione told the crowd afterward. ”We’re not done yet — let’s go!”

The regional finale was delayed by an hour and a half because of inclement weather, extending a long wait for the Wildcats. Indiana State received more rest after defeating Illinois 13-2 in an elimination game four hours prior to the nightcap.

The delay, however, did not seem to bother the Wildcats.

Kentucky scored runs in each of the first three innings and tallied the first score on a walk and an error. The Wildcats struck again in the second frame when Ryan Nicholson connected in a solo homer to give the hosts a 2-0 advantage. Kentucky added to the lead with a run in the third when Nick Lopez crossed the plate after Nick McCarty was hit by a pitch.

After two scoreless innings, Kentucky added to its lead when Emilien Pitre connected on a two-run homer to left field with one out. The dinger by Pitre gave the Wildcats a 5-0 advantage.

Kentucky starter Mason Moore pitched six innings and gave up four hits. He struck out six batters and walked three. Jackson Nove threw to a pair of batters in the bottom of the seventh before Cameron O’Brien took over and tossed the remainder of the contest. O’Brien gave up just one hit in relief and fanned five batters and walked just one.

Cats down Illinois

Kentucky is one step closer to reaching the NCAA Super Regionals.

The Wildcats (42-14) avoided playing two games on Sunday and remained the only team left in the winner’s bracket of the Lexington Regional with a 6-1 win over Illinois Saturday.

In the second game, the hosts used strong pitching, defense and hitting to hand the Illini (35-20) their first regional loss. 

“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,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “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. 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.”

Kentucky connected on a pair of home runs, including a two-run shot by Ryan Nicholson — his 19th of the year — in the top of the second inning. In the ninth inning, Ryan Waldschmidt put the finishing touches on Kentucky’s scoring with a towering 2-run homer to centerfield for the final margin.

“I thought our defense played a major part in this game,” Mingione said. “Our ability to make plays all over the infield was crucial, and obviously we got some timely hitting, none bigger than … Ryan Nicholson, a Kentucky boy. To do that on this stage, pretty awesome.”

Waldschmidt had a productive day at the plate with three hits — a single, double and a home run — to pace the Wildcats’ offense. Waldschmidt also drove in three runs. Mitchell Daly and Nicholson added two hits each. James McCoy had a double and Emilien Pitre and Grant Smith each had a single for Kentucky.

Starter Trey Pooser threw seven innings for Kentucky and scattered five hits. He recorded seven strikeouts and walked two batters. Pooser got some help from the defense, especially in the second inning when second baseman Pitre snagged a line drive that led to a double play. Kentucky turned a pair of double plays in the contest and stranded seven runners, compared to eight by Illinois.

Ryan Hagenow tossed the final two innings and fanned three of the nine batters he faced in relief. He earned his third save of the year.

Cats survive Western Michigan

 Kentucky survived a late scare in the opening round of the Lexington Regional baseball tournament at Kentucky Proud Park Friday.

Kentucky, the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, held off gritty Western Michigan, 10-8. The Wildcats led 8-0 after the first four innings before the Broncos responded with eight runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Kentucky’s two runs in the bottom of the fifth proved to be a difference.

Despite the late struggles, the Wildcats (41-14) got back on track against the Broncos after scoring just 11 runs combined in three games in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week. Kentucky generated 13 hits against five Western Michigan.

“I thought the production up and down our lineup was crucial,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “If you look at what our seven, eight and nine guys (in the batting order) did, they scored five of our 10 runs. Anytime you have that kind of production up and down the lineup, it obviously makes us hard to beat.”

Kentucky starter Dominic Niman, a left-hander, pitched four innings and gave up five hits and five runs, all earned. Niman threw to six batters in the fifth inning before being relieved by Cameron O’Brien, who retired three of the four batters he faced to get the Wildcats out of a jam in the top of the fifth.

Kentucky used four pitchers. Robert Hogan pitched the final three and one-third innings and gave up a pair of hits and struck out four batters.

Emilien Pitre, Devin Burkes, Mitchell Daly, Nolan McCarthy and James McCoy had two hits each for the Wildcats. Pitre, McCarthy, McCoy, Nick Lopez and Daly each had a double, while McCoy connected on a two-run home run in the second inning.

“I saw a slider the pitch before and he came back to it,” McCoy said. “So, I felt good swinging at it. When I first hit it, I thought it was going to hook foul. It was cool to see it go over.”