With a dramatic 10-5 win in the Lexington regional over #3 seed North Carolina State, the Kentucky Wildcats are heading to the Super Regional for the first time in program history, and all of this in head coach Nick Mingione’s first season at the helm.
The emotion and history of Monday night’s victory wasn’t lost on Mingione as he soaked in the great accomplishment following the victory:
Mingione wasn’t in the pile. He shook hands with NC State and then found a chair.
“I couldn’t control myself,” Mingione said. “I was crying because I’ve been around these guys for what, 11 months now, and I know how hard they’ve worked in all areas of their life — not just baseball. If you were to ask me, ‘Hey, what’s your favorite thing as a coach as far as on the field goes, it’s to watch my players celebrate a championship.'”
But the ‘Cats won’t have too much time to celebrate as a date with their main rivals awaits them later this week. The Super Regional site is in Louisville as another round of ‘Cats vs. Cards in the postseason is in the immediate future:
Super Regional vs Louisville schedule is as follows:— Kentucky Baseball (@UKBaseball) June 6, 2017
Friday - Noon (ESPN2)
Saturday - Noon (ESPN)
Sunday (if necessary) - Noon (TBA)
The Louisville Cardinals will be playing in their fifth straight Super Regional. They got their in impressive fashion by sweeping through their Regional. The Cards have a 50-10 record and National Player of the Year Brendan McKay. But they have recently stumbled the last two seasons in the Super Regional despite having the superior record and a roster full of MLB draft picks.
But this week will bring a strong whiff of unfinished business. Louisville won 97 games the previous two years, but both seasons found anguish waiting in the super regionals. In 2015, losing twice in extra innings to Cal State Fullerton. In 2016, eliminated by a UC Santa Barbara walk-off grand slam, the Cardinals forced to watch another team dogpile at home plate in their own ballpark.
Both times, the College World Series was close enough to touch. And then it wasn’t. Louisville last advanced there in 2013 and ’14, as McDonnell’s program thrived. And here the Cardinals are on the doorstep again, at home, against either their old pals from Kentucky or North Carolina State. The last chance for a lot of them, most conspicuously McKay – probably the poster face for college baseball this junior season.
“The last two years kind of rough you up a little bit,” he said. “You go off to summer ball and everybody’s asking you the same questions over and over, like what happened? It’s kind of annoying that you have to get asked that question so many times. The ending just leaves a salty taste in your mouth.”
These two rivals aren’t strangers to big games against each other with postseason implications on the line. In 2012 the Wildcats defeated the Cardinals in the Final of the NCAA basketball tournament on the way to a national title. In 2013 the ‘Cats again defeated the Cards in the tournament, this time in the Sweet 16.
The Cardinals prevented the Wildcats from going to the postseason in football two years in a row. But this past season, Kentucky beat UofL on their home field as Heisman trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson fumbled in their red-zone, setting up a go ahead field goal drive for the Big Blue. While that victory did not prevent UofL from reaching the postseason, it did prevent them from going to a prestigious Orange Bowl.
Here we are again: two hated rivals playing for the biggest stakes in the sport. While Louisville will be the favorite, and justifiably so, there is something special going on with Nick Mingione and his team.
There is no arguing that this is the biggest series in the history of the Commonwealth.