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Big Blue World Series: Baserunning, committee pitching punches Kentucky's ticket to Omaha

Adam Luckettby:Adam Luckett06/10/24

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Kentucky baseball discusses another Regional Championship

Can you taste it, Big Blue Nation? Can you feel it? Is this heaven? No. This is Omaha.

The goal has been accomplished, and Nick Mingione’s eighth ballclub in Lexington has gotten the massive monkey off the Kentucky baseball program’s back. The Bat Cats are headed to the College World Series after finishing off a two-game sweep in the Super Regional vs. No. 15 seed Oregon State seed in the early hours of Monday morning.

How did the Cats get it done in Kentucky Proud Park After Dark? By playing to win.

Aggressive baserunning gives Kentucky a lead in the 7th

With the game tied at 2-2 in the seventh inning, Kentucky centerfielder Nolan McCarthy led off the frame with his second double of the game down the left field line that bounced off the wall in foul territory. After a failed sacrifice bunt attempt by James McCoy could not move the runner, some one-out magic happened.

Grant Smith struck out on a wild pitch, but the ball got away from catcher Wilson Weber. Pitcher Nelson Keljo failed to cover home plate as McCarthy approached third base. Kentucky’s No. 7 hitter then went for it all.

McCarthy never hit the brakes and came charging to home plate at full speed before ultimately breaking out a slide that would make Charlie Hustle Proud to put Kentucky up 3-2.

Kentucky took advantage of an Oregon State mistake and that ultimately made the difference in a one-run game where the Wildcats only produced four hits with zero baserunners against Oregon State’s bullpen outside of that wild pitch from Keljo.

But it came at a cost.

McCarthy was removed from the game in the bottom of the seventh inning when Mingione made a pitching change due to a hamstring injury suffered on the all-out slide. Kentucky’s centerfielder put the team first and it led to a program-changing win.

Pitching staff overcomes adversity to deliver another gem

Entering the postseason, a major weakness for Kentucky appeared to be the pitching staff. You wouldn’t know that after watching the regional and super regional where the Cats finished 5-0 to advance to the College World Series. When adversity arrived on Saturday, this club had all of the answers.

Starter Mason Moore only lasted 3.1 innings. The veteran did not allow a hit but issued six walks on 82 pitches. Kentucky’s starter walked in the only two runs of the weekend for Oregon State and had to be pulled with one out in the fourth inning with the bases loaded.

A bullpen that had ups and downs throughout the season took over from there.

Campbell transfer Cameron O’Brien delivered consecutive strikeouts to get Kentucky out of a jam. O’Brien pitched a season-high three innings striking out five batters and allowing just one hit. Texas A&M transfer Robert Hogan took over for O’Brien in the seventh with one out and a runner on second base. Kentucky’s top reliever went strikeout plus lineout after a walk and a wild pitch put the Cats in some hot water holding a one-run lead.

Hogan would last 2.1 innings striking out three batters but issuing three walks and allowing no hits on 40-plus pitches. Nick Mingione decided to pull Hogan for Ryan Hagenow with one on and two outs in the ninth with Oregon State All-American Travis Bazzana at the plate. The superstar delivered a loud single to right field to put runners at the corner. Mingione decided to go to the bullpen again.

That move produced an iconic moment for the program.

Erskine transfer Johnny Hummel struck out Micah McDowell on only three pitches to send the Cats to Omaha. At the end of the night, Kentucky’s pitching staff allowed just two hits and recorded 13 strikeouts as Moore, O’Brien, Hogan, Hagenow, and Hummel found a way to get the team across the finish line despite issuing nine walks. Facing a good Oregon State lineup, Kentucky’s staff only allowed three hits to the Beavers through 18 innings. The only runs came via walk.

A team weakness became a team strength in the highest-leverage moments of the season. Now we will see if Kentucky’s arms can keep the good times rolling when they face the winner of Monday’s rubber match between NC State and Georgia in Omaha.

Who is ready for a jello shot?

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2024-06-24