LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky baseball team begins play in its first-ever NCAA Baseball Super Regional on Friday, June 9, facing archrival Louisville in a noon ET start at Jim Patterson Stadium in Louisville. The two teams will meet in a best two-of-three series on Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday, with the winner advancing to Omaha for the College World Series next week.
Kentucky qualified for the Super Regional by winning an NCAA Baseball Regional for the first time in school history. The Wildcats, playing in the Lexington Regional at Cliff Hagan Stadium, rallied from the loser’s bracket to beat Indiana (14-9), before topping N.C. State twice (8-6 on Sunday and 10-5 on Monday). Kentucky sophomore pitcher Sean Hjelle, the 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year, earned two victories in the regional, beating Ohio in a starting role on Friday and earning the win in relief in Monday’s victory over N.C. State.
Now, the Wildcats turn their focus to the Cardinals, who knocked Kentucky out of the NCAA Baseball Tournament the last time the two teams met in the postseason. That was a 4-1 Louisville win on June 1, 2014 at Jim Patterson Stadium in the regional round. This year, the teams have already met twice, with each winning on its home field. Louisville won 5-3 on April 4 in Louisville, while Kentucky won 11-7 on April 18 at the Cliff.
UK head coach Nick Mingione thinks the rivalry between the schools benefits both baseball programs.
“I’m really happy for the state of Kentucky,” Mingione said. “I’ve always said, if their team can be good and our team can be good at the same time, that’s really good for our state. When you think about all of the other states and teams that (the national media) could be talking about, a lot of them are talking about our state and our team, that’s really neat.”
Kentucky (43-21) is led on the mound by Hjelle, who is 11-3 with a 3.75 ERA. His 11 wins mark the fourth-highest total in a season in UK history. The 6-11 right-hander has struck out 99 batters while walking just 31 in 103.1 innings of work. Freshman lefty Zack Thompson has also been outstanding for the Cats, posting an 8-2 record with a 3.52 ERA. And sophomore Justin Lewis is 6-4 with a 3.60 ERA. Those three pitchers figure to be in the mix for the starting nods in the regional for Kentucky, although Mingione said that the decision has not yet been made.
Senior closer Logan Salow has made 30 appearances this season, the third-highest total in UK single-season history. He has 12 saves, tied with Trevor Gott (2013) for the most by any UK player in a season. Salow’s 16 career saves are second in UK history behind Gott’s 23.
At the plate, sophomore Tristan Pompey and junior Evan White lead the Wildcats with .368 batting averages. Pompey, named third-team All-American by Baseball America, has 95 hits on the season, the third-most in any season in UK history. He needs seven hits over the weekend to tie Jeff Abbott’s record of 102 hits in 1994.
White, who was named second-team All-American by Baseball America this week, currently has 229 hits during his three-year UK career. He needs one hit to tie for sixth (Keenan Wiley), three to tie for fifth (Abbott) and four to tie for fourth (Spencer Graeter). His .354 career batting average is also sixth in UK history.
Second baseman Riley Mahan (pictured) is also having a big year for the Cats. The junior, who was also named third-team All-American by Baseball America, is hitting .339 with a team-high 15 homers and a team-leading 67 RBIs.
Louisville (50-10) is ranked third nationally and features a pair of All-Americans. Two-way standout Brendan McKay is hitting .356 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs to go with his 9-3 record and 2.31 ERA. Third baseman Drew Ellis is batting .362 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs for head coach Dan McDonnell’s Cardinals.
“Their offense is balanced,” Mingione said. “They have a really good offense as well. Whenever you have a team that does that, you’re going to have to beat them in a bunch of different ways, and they can beat you in a bunch of different ways as well.”
Friday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN2, while Saturday’s game is set for ESPN. Sunday’s game, if necessary, has not been designated for TV at this time.
Date/Time: Fri., June 9 (noon); Sat., June 10 (noon); Sun., Jue 11 (noon)
Location (Facility): Louisville, Ky. (Jim Patterson Stadium)
Previous 2017 Meetings: 4/4 - @Louisville 5, UK 3; 4/18 - @UK 11, Louisville 7
Radio: 630 AM-WLAP (Neil Price); UKathletics.com
TV/Online: Friday (ESPN2); Saturday (ESPN); Sunday (ESPN or ESPN2)
Photo by UK Athletics