LEXINGTON, Ky. – Like almost everyone in his profession, Kentucky baseball coach Nick Mingione likes to take things one game at a time. But with four huge home games coming up this week, even Mingione couldn’t help but look somewhat forward.
“This week, in general, all four of our games are going to be against teams ranked in the top 10,” Mingione said. “After this weekend, I think it’s 23 of our 41 games will have been against ranked opponents. Our strength of schedule is something that’s been a strength of ours, and obviously, playing Louisville and LSU this week, it’s definitely going to help.”
That tough, four-game slate begins on Tuesday night with a rematch against intrastate rival and second-ranked Louisville (31-4). The teams met two weeks ago in the Derby city, with the Cardinals holding off a late Kentucky rally to win 5-3 at Jim Patterson Stadium.
The Wildcats, themselves ranked 10th in the country by D1Baseball.com this week, will be looking for revenge on Tuesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium (7 p.m. ET, SEC Network). Kentucky junior first baseman Evan White admits that games against Louisville do mean more.
“Louisville is always a fun game, we always get up for it,” White said. “It’s definitely something we set our sights on. My class, we haven’t beaten them in my career, so that’s something we definitely want to accomplish soon. It’s going to be fun tomorrow night, we’re going to come out and compete and do everything we can to win a ball game.”
After facing Louisville, Kentucky will set its sights back on SEC play, with the ninth-ranked LSU Tigers headed to Lexington for a three-game series. LSU is 25-12 overall and 9-6 in the SEC and has won five of its last six games.
Mingione knows that Louisville and LSU are different teams, but they do have some similarities.
“As far as the challenge, I think the two teams are different, in their own way,” Mingione said. “Having played Louisville, we have a better understanding about their lineup, their style of play, how they maybe want to attack our hitters. Coming into LSU, that will be a totally different challenge. Both really good teams that both pitch at a really, really high level and can really defend the field.”
Kentucky went 3-1 last week, blanking UT Martin 8-0 on Wednesday before taking two of three games at Missouri over the weekend in SEC play. The Wildcats won on Friday and Sunday behind strong pitching performances from sophomores Sean Hjelle and Justin Lewis. Kentucky is now 25-12 this season, including a 10-5 mark in the SEC.
One of the challenges that Mingione has faced this season is seeing how his team handles success, but the first-year head coach is not complaining.
“We’re learning how to deal with winning,” Mingione said. “I love the fact that we’re at that moment with our team. Being halfway through our league and being 10-5 in our league and our RPI is up to (number) seven in the country. I love the fact that we’re there now. No one knew how quick or how fast that would happen, but I’m really glad we’re having that conversation now, and it’s only April.”
The Wildcats have a big week ahead of them, and they hope to show that they can continue to handle success, this time against a pair of the nation’s best teams.
No. 2 Louisville at No. 10 Kentucky
Location (Facility): Lexington, Ky. (Cliff Hagan Stadium Stadium)
Series History: Kentucky leads 69-42-1
Radio: UK Radio Network; 630 AM WLAP (Lexington); ukathletics.com (Neil Price)