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Kentucky holds off Oregon State to punch College World Series ticket

IMG_8756by:Daniel Hager06/09/24

DanielHagerKSR

Kentucky held off Oregon State 3-2 Sunday night to win their first ever Super Regional in program history, and are now officially headed to the College World Series for the first time in program history.

Kentucky was the lone SEC team to have never made it to the College World Series. That is no more.

“My heart is just filled with gratitude,” Nick Mingione said postgame. “So proud of these players, coaches, staff, former players, former coaches, and former staff members that have just poured so much into this program.”

Two bases loaded walks by Mason Moore in the bottom of the fourth tied the game at two, but Nolan McCarthy‘s heads up base running in the top of the seventh handed the Cats their deciding third run.

The Beavers totaled just three hits in the Lexington Super Regional, setting the record for least amount of hits in a Super Regional in NCAA Tournament history (East Carolina’s five against Vanderbilt in 2021 was the previous record).

Kentucky Proud Park once again set its attendance record, as 7,558 fans filed into the stadium to witness history. Big Blue Nation, it’s finally happened.

Photo by Aaron Perkins | Kentucky Sports Radio

See you in Omaha.

Players of the Game:

  • CF Nolan McCarthy: McCarthy came up big for the Cats, going 2-2 at the plate with two doubles, two RBI, and a wild run scored.
  • RHP Cam O’Brien: O’Brien was huge in relief for Kentucky on Sunday, as he held the Beavers scoreless with five strikeouts in three innings of work.
  • RHP Robert Hogan: Hogan pitched 2 1/3 innings, not allowing a single run while striking out three.

Kentucky strikes first again

Kentucky started right-hander Mason Moore, while Oregon State started right-hander Jacob Kmatz. Much like Saturday’s game was, Sunday’s game was a pitcher’s duel early.

After a scoreless first inning which consisted of two strikeouts by both pitchers, Kmatz opened the top of the second with back-to-back strikeouts of Nick Lopez and Mitch Daly. Red-hot Ryan Nicholson however snuck a two-out single up the middle, keeping the Cats alive in the inning.

Nolan McCarthy converted the opportunity by lacing an RBI-double down the third base line, which deflected off the wall into right center field. Nicholson, who isn’t the fastest runner, was however able to score from third to give Kentucky an early 1-0 lead.

Photo by Aaron Perkins | Kentucky Sports Radio

The Cats have scored first in seven consecutive games.

Safety squeeze extends Wildcat lead

As Nick Mingione says time and time again, there are six components to offense; hitting, situational hitting, plate vision, base running, base stealing, and bunting.

The Cats extended their lead in the top of the fourth by employing four of the six components; hitting, base running, base stealing, and bunting.

Nick Lopez struck out to open the frame, but Mitch Daly roped a double to right center field to put a runner on second with one out. He then took third on a bobble by Oregon State catcher Wilson Weber, putting a runner just 90 feet away.

With a speedy runner like Daly on third, you knew the safety squeeze was coming. Nolan McCarthy layed down a picture perfect bunt down the first base line, allowing Daly to slide in safely for Kentucky’s second run of the game. Classic Nick Mingione baseball.

Photo by Aaron Perkins | Kentucky Sports Radio

Moore loses control in fourth

Although he didn’t allow a single hit Sunday night, Mason Moore gifted the Beavers two free runs before his exit in the bottom of the fourth.

Moore walked Oregon State’s Micah McDowell and Gavin Turley on back-to-back 3-2 counts, bringing up Dallas Macias. Macias blooped a routine pop-up to defensive wizard Grant Smith at shortstop, but Smith lost the ball in the dark of night. The ball hit Smith on the top of the head on its way down, which loaded the bases with no outs. It was just Grant’s fourth error of the season.

The right-hander then totaled his third and fourth walks of the inning, bringing two free runs home for the Beavers to tie the game. Moore’s NCAA Tournament scoreless streak ended at 23 2/3 innings.

Photo by Aaron Perkins | Kentucky Sports Radio

With still one out in the inning, he was replaced by right-handed reliever Cam O’Brien, who came up huge for the Cats. O’Brien struck out back-to-back batters to get out of the bases loaded jam, then struck out two more batters in the top of the fifth.

McCarthy’s hustle reclaims lead

The game remained knotted at two until the seventh inning, where Nolan McCarthy’s hustle reclaimed the lead for the Cats.

McCarthy’s big day continued with a leadoff double down the third base line, a hit that was nearly identical to his second inning double. After a James McCoy failed bunt attempt that was popped out to the pitcher, the struggling Grant Smith stepped up to bat.

Smith’s struggles continued with a strikeout, but KPP after Dark magic struck for the Cats. The swinging strike three got past Oregon State catcher Wilson Weber and headed to the backstop. Smith reached first safely, but McCarthy’s hustle was the real story.

Beaver reliever Nelson Keljo was not covering home, which allowed McCarthy to round third and slide home safely in a wild play. The Cats reclaimed the lead, but McCarthy seemed to have injured himself on the dive home as he was subbed out defensively for Ty Crittenberger in the bottom of the seventh.

Photo by Aaron Perkins | Kentucky Sports Radio

“I saw it squeak by and I was running to third,” McCarthy said postgame. “I saw their pitcher wasn’t covering. I think I ran through a stop sign but it ended up working out. Nobody was covering home so might as well take what you’re going to give you.”

Kentucky punches first ever ticket to College World Series

Right-hander Robert Hogan relieved O’Brien with one out in the seventh, ending “The Fireman’s” stellar outing.

Hogan flirted with disaster, as he put runners on the corners with just one out. Clinging onto just a one run lead, the Texas A&M transfer notched a strikeout and forced a lineout to get out of the jam.

After a scoreless eighth, he returned to the mound in the ninth with a chance to make history.

Hogan forced a groundout to nab out number one and Mitch Daly made an incredible diving grab and throw to first to force out number two, but the right-hander walked Mason Guerra to bring up who else? Travis Bazzana.

Right-hander Ryan Hagenow, who has spent the last four seasons at Kentucky, entered for the biggest moment of his career. Hagenow allowed a single to Bazzana, which was his first hit of the weekend. Suddenly, runners were on the corners with two outs.

Micah McDowell gave the Beavers a huge opportunity while righty Johnny Hummel entered the game for the Cats. Hummel however got the clutch strike out, ending the game.

“[Hummel]’s waited his turn and he boy was he ready for that,” Mingione said postgame.

VICTORY, CAYTS.

What’s next for Kentucky?

Kentucky is headed to the College World Series for the first time in program history. The CWS begins on June 14.

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2024-06-14