With a $50 million stadium on the way, Kentucky baseball is trending up at the right time.
Nick Mingione’s Wildcats are building on their memorable 2017 season with an impressive 2018 campaign. They are ranked No. 21 in the D1Baseball.com Top 25 and appear to be in solid position to challenge for their first College World Series berth.
When SEC Country spoke with D1Baseball’s Aaron Fitt this week, we asked about programs on the rise. He praised Kentucky and called it a “prominent national program” that has earned its due during the last decade or so.
“That’s a program that was not really a factor at the national level until about 2006 when they won the SEC,” Fitt said. “They’ve been a little up and down since then. They’ve still never been to Omaha, but they’re the northernmost program in the league. They don’t have the same weather advantages as the rest of the conference, and right now they’ve got a lot of momentum.”
Part of that momentum includes the aforementioned $50 million venue — well, technically $49 million — that is slated to open in 2019.
And the other part is a well-coached roster that has more or less reached its potential this spring. Fitt mentioned several players who have serious MLB aspirations — including outfielder Tristan Pompey, 6-foot-11 pitcher Sean Hjelle, 6-7 pitcher Justin Lewis, and not-quite-as-tall-but-just-as-impressive pitcher Zac Thompson — while praising the work second-year coach Mingione has done.
Fitt also singled out senior outfielder Luke Heyer, who has shocked the conference with 16 home runs this season.
“He’s had one of the best seasons in the conference, and he’s a guy that came into the year as just an extra guy, a solid role player,” Fitt said. “And now he’s become a real star as a senior. You don’t usually see that kind of a career progression.”
The Wildcats secured a 7-6 victory against Indiana on Tuesday and are preparing for a three-game home series against fellow SEC power Mississippi State (Friday-Sunday).
They’re favored to earn a No. 1 seed in regionals, which would provide home-field advantage against a trio of other nearby tourney teams. If the Cats escape that group, they would advance to a Super Regional for the second consecutive year, with hopes of winning that portion of the bracket for the first time in school history.
“That’s one of those programs that flew under the radar in the SEC for a long time, and now they’ve become a prominent national program,” Fitt said. “All they need is to get to Omaha and take that next step.”
Kentucky baseball schedule
- Friday, May 11 vs. Mississippi State (Lexington, Ky.)
- Saturday, May 12 vs. Mississippi State (Lexington, Ky.)
- Sunday, May 13 vs. Mississippi State (Lexington, Ky.)
- Tuesday, May 15 at Murray State (Murray, Ky.)
- Thursday, May 17 at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)
- Friday, May 18 at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)
- Saturday, May 19 at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)
- 2018 SEC Tournament: May 22-27 (Hoover, Ala.)