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Wildcats want to make more history in NCAA Super Regional series against rival Louisville

By Keith Taylor
KyForward Senior Sports Editor

Kentucky made history last weekend in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. In order to reach another milestone, the Wildcats will need to get past their biggest rival in the Super Regionals.

Kentucky opens a best-of-three series at No. 7 Louisville Friday at Jim Patterson Stadium. A second game will be Saturday and a finale on Sunday, if necessary. All three games will start at noon and played at Patterson Stadium.

Kentucky coach Nick Mingione and the Wildcats will take on Louisville in a best-of-three Super Regional series this weekend. The winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. (UK Athletics Photo)

The Wildcats (43-21) defeated Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina State twice to get out of the losers bracket and earn the program’s first trip to the Super Regional last weekend at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Louisville (50-10) swept all three of its three opponents in the opening round to advance to the second phase of the tournament for the fifth straight season.

Kentucky is one of six Southeastern Conference teams remaining in the 16-team Super Regionals. League foes Florida, LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and the Wildcats will be vying for one of eight coveted spots in the College World Series.

Nick Mingione, in his first season at the helm at Kentucky, welcomes the series against Cardinals, who have yet to lose to a non-conference opponent at home this season. The two teams split the two-game series during the regular-season, with each team winning on their home turf.

“I’m really happy for the state of Kentucky,” Mingione said. “If their team can be good and our team can be good at the same time, that’s really good for our state. There’s a lot of people talking about (Kentucky and Louisville). That’s really neat. A lot of people are starting to get really excited.”

Kentucky junior second baseman Riley Mahan agreed and said the Wildcats are set for the challenge of playing on college baseball’s biggest stage this weekend.

“We know what both programs are all about,” Mahan said. “It’s one of the biggest rivalries in all of college sports. It’s going to be a really fun weekend and our team is really looking forward to getting down there and getting to work.”

Mingione admitted his team didn’t play their best in a 5-3 setback to Louisville on April 4 at Patterson Stadium and added his team’s 11-7 triumph over the Cardinals on April 18 isn’t indicative of how much both teams have improved during the past two months.

“Their team and our team are at totally difference places now than we were many a month, month and half ago or (even) two months ago,” he said. “That’s supposed to happen throughout the college baseball season.”

Mahan, one of the top offensive performers for the Wildcats during a five-game stretch in four days last weekend, likes the team’s chances of advancing past the second phase of the tournament.

“My approach (during the) regional was to give everything I had to my team and do anything to help my team win,” Mahan said. “I think that was the approach for a lot of guys and it really showed on the field, in the locker room and during the celebration. If we do that again this weekend, we’re going to have a really good weekend.”

Although the Cardinals have the experience of playing in the Super Regional for the past five years, Mingione said the series is another chance for the Wildcats to shine on the baseball diamond and gain even more national exposure.

“Their program is in a different place than ours,” Mingione said. “This is their fifth (Super Regional) in a row and this is our first one in school history., but at the same time, our message to our team all year has been do do things that have never been done before, so this is another opportunity.”

Although winning the Super Regionals would be a treat for Mingione and his squad, just reaching the second round isn’t part of Mingione’s overall plan for the program now and in the future.

“Omaha is the destination, but the goal is to win the whole thing,” Mingione said. “As long as I’m the head coach here (at Kentucky), that will always be the on-field goal.”

Three players honored: Three Kentucky players were named to the Baseball America All-American team Thursday. First baseman Evan White was named to the second-team, while Tristan Pompey (outfield) and Riley Mahan (second base) were on the third team.

Louisville Super Regional schedule

Game 1: Friday, noon, ESPN2
Game 2: Saturday, noon, ESPN
Game 3: Sunday, noon, ESPN or ESPN2
(If necessary)

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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