Evan White. Riley Mahan. Tristin Pompey. Connor Heady. Evan White. Marcus Carson. Zach Reks. Zack Thompson. Sean Hjelle. Tyler Marshall. Logan Salow. Chris Machamer. Kole Cottom. Troy Squires.
Those are some of the names that appeared on the 2017 Kentucky Baseball roster. These were the players that new head coach Nick Mingione was going to work with this season. Nobody believed this group would do anything of note this year. The media didn’t believe as they predicted Kentucky would finish 4th in the SEC…4th in the East Division, that is. The fans didn’t believe. And after beginning the season 0-4, most of the players didn’t believe, either.
But Coach Mingione believed. He believed in the heart of his players. He believed in their competitiveness. He believed in their talent. He believed with every fiber of his being that this year was going to be special. And before long, his team began to believe, too.
After a surprising regular season that saw the Cats notch 19 victories in the SEC, the fans began to believe. Having recorded the 3rd most wins in the nation against top 50 teams, the rest of college baseball began to believe, too. Even though the Cats stumbled in the SEC Tournament, it didn’t change Coach Mingione’s belief. Prior to the NCAA tournament beginning, Mingione said:
“I believe everything in life, you have to earn, and that’s what our young men have done. They have earned everything.”
After Friday’s opening game in the Lexington Region, it appeared everything would go according to Mingione’s plan as the Cats defeated Ohio. This set up a game against #3 seed North Carolina State on Saturday, a game the Big Blue Nation was confident the Cats would win.
But that didn’t happen as Kentucky fell to the Wolfpack 5-4. That loss sent the Cats down a different road than anticipated for continuing on to their goal of going to Omaha. Now Mingione’s team had to win three straight games in two days in order to advance to next weekend’s Super Regionals in Louisville. The Cats certainly didn’t make things easy for themselves, but as Mingione said after the loss, “It’s not supposed to be easy.”
Sunday’s first game was against Indiana, a team Kentucky had defeated a few weeks earlier. But that was different. This time there was no room for error. It was, quite simply, win or go home and watch this magical season come to an abrupt end. The Cats responded well and dealt the Hoosiers a 14-9 loss, setting up a rematch with North Carolina State just a couple of hours later.
In front of another huge crowd at The Cliff, Kentucky seemed to be in for another tough battle as NC State took the early lead. The Cats tied the game, then fell behind again before taking the lead for good and handing the Wolfpack an 8-6 loss. Two down, one to go.
Now the stage is set for Monday night and the deciding game for the Lexington Region Final. Kentucky must face the Wolfpack one more time, and once again, it’s win or go home. One more win and make history as the first Kentucky team to ever advance to a Super Regional. One more win to continue this incredible season. Can the Cats do it?
The fans believe. The players believe. And Coach Nick Mingione? He’s never stopped believing.
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