Mingione on KSR: "An unbelievable dugout" is behind Kentucky Baseball's hot start

On3 imageby:Drew Franklin04/02/24


Tuesday was to be an exciting day over at Kentucky Proud Park, but the weather in Lexington had other plans for Kentucky Baseball. The 17th-ranked Wildcats’ highly anticipated home game against rival Louisville has been postponed until Wednesday evening due to the severe weather falling in the Bluegrass. Still, head coach Nick Mingione made a special guest appearance on Kentucky Sports Radio’s morning show to preview what’s ahead for his club upon returning from a sweep of Ole Miss in Oxford.

Speaking about that sweep, in which Kentucky scored 37 runs in three games, Mingione credited his players for staying focused in a challenging road atmosphere. Nearly 30,000 fans filled Oxford-University Stadium for the Easter weekend series against Kentucky, only to see the visiting Wildcats take all three games. Before that, Kentucky went to Missouri and took two of three on the road against a top-25 team in Columbia after opening with a home sweep of Georgia. Going into Wednesday’s game versus the Cards, the Wildcats are 8-1 in the SEC, 9-1 in true road games, and 11-2 away from Lexington in 2024.

“It’s been awesome,” Mingione told KSR’s Matt Jones in reaction to Kentucky’s hot start in the league. “The SEC has played for the national championship in baseball 14 out of the last 15 years. Let that sink in. A team from our league. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. So, you know, at any point in time, it can swing either way. But yeah, we’re just thankful the guys have played great.

Georgia was 17-1 before UK handed the Dawgs three losses in Lexington. This past weekend’s sweep of Ole Miss was the first in school history. How? Mingione said his players are in the right frame of mind.

“Trying to get our guys to just understand that when you just focus on what you’re trying to do, and your energy is not on what other people are doing, which you can’t control, it is such a freeing and nice place to be, right? We didn’t have to worry about all the crowds and what Ole Miss was doing and everybody else. When they put their focus on what they’re trying to do and what we’re trying to execute, well, then it doesn’t matter what else is going on around you.

“You’re just so locked in on you, and you’re not focused on all the other things that don’t matter and, number one, you can’t control. So, let’s focus and put our attention on that, and as a result, the guys were comfortable. They were just like, Coach, this was awesome. We made this feel like our home dugout. The dugout felt just like it was at home on the road. And I’m like, well, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Good. Let’s keep doing that. That’s working.”

He added, “Still, a lot of games to go, though. But so far, so good.”

The right mix of players and an “unbelievable dugout”

More than the right mindset, Mingione also believes he has the right mix of players in the clubhouse. “Number one, we have a team,” he told KSR. “I always say the strength of our team is our team. Just watch our guys play. We have an unbelievable dugout. They have so much fun. They’re competing. They’re getting after it.

“But we do have a good mix of guys that were in our program from a year ago,” he added. “So, when you think about last year, and us hosting the Regional and winning our second-ever Regional championship, and a lot of people that can hear my voice right now were at that game, and if they weren’t, they were watching it, and yeah, it was awesome. So we had that special year. We were two wins from Omaha, end up losing to the eventual national champion in LSU. And we have a lot of those guys back. So they’ve kind of, you know, tasted it and smelt it and saw what it’s supposed to look like. And then we were able to add some really good players on top of that, whether it’s through high school recruits and the transfer portal.

Back from last season’s regional championship team, pitcher Mason Moore moved into the starting rotation. So far, he has thrown in seven games with a 2.87 ERA and a 6-0 record. Most recently, he pitched five innings in the run-rule win at Ole Miss on Easter Sunday, giving up only two hits in the game. Catcher Devin Burkes, shortstop Grant Smith, and outfielder Nolan McCarthy are also key returners, among others.

From the portal, Nick Lopez (Southern California) leads the team with a .412 batting average, while senior infielder Mitchell Daly (Texas) brings College World Series experience and was a Freshman All-American and All-Big 12 honoree in Austin. Mingione also signed another strong recruiting class in November.

“So we’ve gotten to a spot where we’re in a really good place again, and guys, we’re playing great.”

Hear more from Nick Mingione in the second hour of Tuesday’s KSR podcast before his Wildcats host Louisville at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night in Lexington.

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