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Nick Mingione talks Kentucky's 9-6 win over Arkansas

IMG_8756by:Daniel Hager05/23/24

DanielHagerKSR

No. 3 seed Kentucky knocked No. 2 seed Arkansas out of the SEC Tournament on Thursday with a 9-6 victory. The Cats will now play the loser of Thursday’s game between No. 10 seed South Carolina and No. 11 LSU on Friday at 3:00 p.m. CST/4:00 p.m. EST.

Here’s everything Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said after Kentucky’s first SEC Tournament win May 28, 2022 (LSU).

Arkansas started 2024 SEC Pitcher of the Year Hagen Smith on Thursday, who was expected to be on a pitch count. Earlier this season, Kentucky totaled just three hits and one run against Smith in six innings. The left-hander finished with 14 strikeouts in that series opener.

As Nick Mingione explained postgame Thursday, a change in approach at the plate was needed out of the Wildcat lineup.

“We started watching the opposing pitcher at 6:50 this morning and then at 7:00, we met as a team,” Mingione said. “We challenged them, and this team has done what it’s done all year. Every time we challenge them, they respond. We had all the guys that faced [Hagen Smith] last time stand up in front of the team. We basically told them that this guy has sat out there for 14 straight weeks and dominated everybody he’s played. We told them that life and the game at baseball is about making adjustments and we challenged them. Those guys that faced him had to use their man voice and tell our team what they were going to do different today. You guys know this, when you keep doing the same thing over and over and over again and expect a different result what’s that called? Insanity.”

The change in approach worked, as Kentucky dinged Smith for two hits and two (unearned) runs in his two innings of action.

Photo via Southeastern Conference

This season’s SEC Tournament will likely have no effect on Kentucky’s place in the NCAA Tournament, as the Cats have all but wrapped up a top-eight national seed. However, a nice showing in the SEC Tournament would provide a little reassurance that Kentucky can truly make a run to its first ever College World Series appearance.

“Anytime you go into the postseason, you do want to play good,” Mingione said. “This is a tough tournament to win, as you know. It is a challenge. But you do want to feel good about your team and you do want to be clicking on all cylinders. Quite frankly sometimes you’re going to face an opponent and an arm that just shut you down and you don’t do as well as you’d like. But there’s no question that you want to feel good about your team heading into next week and this is a great opportunity to do that.”

A major part of Kentucky’s win on Thursday was its incredible defense. Multiple players, such as Nolan McCarthy, Émilien Pitre, Grant Smith, and Mitch Daly, all made potential run-saving plays over the course of the game.

“When you think about everyone on the field that was presented with an opportunity to do something great on the defensive end, they responded,” Mingione said. “We have to have a pitching staff that believes in that, like ‘hey, I can ram that thing in there and we’re going to have a defense that truly is a nine vs. one mentality.’ When they’re doing that and we’re doing that, that’s us at our best. We got in trouble in the sixth when we didn’t do that. But when we do that, we can compete at a very high level.”

Photo via UK Athletics

Nick Mingione was asked how his coaching staff was approaching balancing wanting to win the SEC Tournament, but also trying to preserve players for next week’s NCAA Tournament.

“Matter of fact, we made that decision in the middle of the game with Trey [Pooser],” Mingione said. “He was at 76 pitches and if we chose to run him back out there, on average you’re going to throw anywhere between 16 and 25 pitches in an inning. We made the decision that if we do that, we’re gonna run him over 100 pitches. We weren’t willing to do that. Sure, was the game 6-0? Yes it was. We were in a good spot but ultimately, we do have to manage that in the right way.”

Pooser was dominant on Wednesday, holding the Razorbacks to just three hits and no earned runs in five innings of work. In a regular game, he’d likely get one-to-two more innings of work. However, there are bigger fish to fry for the Cats next week when the NCAA Tournament begins.

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2024-06-12