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Top-seeded Wildcats oust Indiana, avenge loss to N.C. State to stay alive in NCAA Tournament

By Keith Taylor
KyForward Senior Sports Writer

Kentucky needed two wins to stay alive in the NCAA Tournament and the top-seeded Wildcats accomplished just that Sunday.

Coming off a 4-3 loss to North Carolina State Saturday, Kentucky ousted Indiana 14-9 in the opener and then avenged a earlier-tournament loss to the Wolfpack with an 8-6 triumph in the nightcap to force a second and decisive regional final. The two teams, each with one loss, will meet again Monday night at 7 p.m. for a spot in next week’s Super Regional in Louisville.

Kentucky’s Riley Mahan and Kole Cottam celebrate during Kentucky’s win over Indiana Sunday at Cliff Hagan Stadium. The Wildcats also defeated N.C. State Sunday. (Britney Howard/UK Athletics)

Kentucky needed just one big inning to hold off the Wolfpack, scoring four times in the sixth inning while clinging to a 4-3 advantage. The outburst pushed the Wildcats’ margin to 8-3. North Carolina State plated three runs of its own in the seventh inning to narrow the margin to 8-6.

The Wildcats collected 14 hits off four North Carolina State pitchers, while starter Brad Schaenzer went four innings. Schaenzer gave up three runs on six hits and walked two. Chris Machamer and Logan Salow threw the final five innings.

Tristan Pompey and Zach Reks paced Kentucky’s offense with three hits apiece, followed by Marcus Carson and Connor Heady with two each.

In the opener, Kentucky eliminated rival Indiana from the tournament in impressive fashion to keep its season alive.

“One thing I’ve talked about all year with our team is that they need to have that desire to win that dominates and that was very clear in this game,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “

The hosts collected 18 hits off eight Indiana pitchers in the first game of a double-header, including seven off Hoosiers starting pitcher Cal Krueger. Second baseman Riley Mahan sparked Kentucky’s attack with four hits, including a towering grand slam in the sixth inning. Mahan’s blast was part of a decisive six-run outburst against Indiana in the sixth inning.

“There’s no place like home,” Mingione said. “Our guys have just, for whatever reason, just like every other team I would think, they feel more comfortable at home.”

Kentucky held a 4-1 advantage over the Hoosiers before Mahan’s blast extended the margin to 10-1 going into the final three innings. Indiana tallied eight of its nine runs in two of the final three innings.

Mangione wasn’t concerned about Indiana’s late surge.

“It didn’t mean anything to me,” he said. “We won the game.”

Kole Cottam and Carson followed Mahan with one home run each, followed by Reks with three hits. Pompey, Evan White, Cottam, Carson and Heady added two hits apiece for the Wildcats.

Kentucky added four more runs in the eighth inning and held off Indiana, which crossed the plate five times in the ninth inning for the final margin.

Freshman left-hander Zack Thompson, tossed seven innings for the Wildcats and gave up six hits, four runs — all earned — walked one and struck out seven batters. After serving up a home run on his first pitch of the contest and a single in the opening frame, Thompson settled down and retired 10 straight batters, retiring the side during four of the next five innings.

“There’s a lot of freshmen that would get rattled and (Thompson) did not do that,” Mingione said. “This is one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached, one of the most gritty players I’ve ever coached. This guy right here, he did everything he could to help our team win.”

Thompson, a Selma, Indiana native who was recruited by the Hoosiers, said he just had to “flush” the opening pitch in order to avoid a potential first-inning letdown and didn’t feel any pressure as the game progressed.

“It wasn’t my best pitch and they ambushed it, so I just had to go back to my plan and keep attacking the bottom of the zone and let my defense work,” he said. “It’s still just a game of baseball. You can’t take any lighter than any other game, because then you tense up and make bad pitches. I just approached it like any other game.”

Kentucky reliever Colton Cleary replaced Thompson in the eight inning and struggled and scattered five runs and four hits in one and two-thirds of an inning, before Alec Maley came on in the seventh inning to get the final out and keep the Wildcats alive in the tourney.

Indiana collected 10 hits, including four home runs, with Craig Dedelow belting a two-run shot off Cleary in the seventh inning. The Hoosiers, who lost to North Carolina State 7-6 in 12 innings before knocking out Ohio from the tourney with a 11-2 rout of the Bobcats Saturday, finished the season with a 34-24-2 record.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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