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UK Baseball’s turnaround one of the biggest success stories in school history

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

In the wee hours of the night, something special went down at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Bolstered by a record crowd of 5,005 screaming fans, the UK Baseball team rallied to beat NC State 10-5 to advance to the Super Regional for the first time in school history. That alone is a remarkable achievement, but when you consider it came after UK lost to NC State on Friday and the Bat Cats had to win three straight games — including back-to-back victories over the Wolfpack — to do it, it’s incredible. Add in that all of this success is coming in Nick Mingione’s first year as a head coach, and you can understand why the team collapsed into a dog pile of emotions after the final out and Mingione was reduced to tears.

On the precipice of the program’s first Super Regional — which will pit them against archrival Louisville, nonetheless — regardless of what happens, what Mingione and the Bat Cats have accomplished this season is one of the biggest success stories in UK Athletics’ history; if they make it to the College World Series, it could be the biggest. Here’s why.

It’s not only Nick Mingione’s first year as UK’s coach, it’s his first year as a head coach period

As Kentucky fans, we’ve been blessed with some charismatic coaches, most notably John Calipari, but what a year for Nick Mingione. Last summer, Mingione accepted the Kentucky job at the age of 37, his first head coaching job ever. After his first press conference, it was easy to see why Mitch Barnhart took a chance on him. It’s impossible not to like Mingione. He’s down to earth, passionate, smart, funny, and reads people extremely well, one reason he probably connected so quickly with his players.

Mingione spent two seasons as an assistant at Kentucky from 2006-07 and has said several times that Lexington is the only SEC town he would bring his wife to during his seven years as an assistant at Mississippi State. Now, in his first season as a head coach, he was named Coach of the Year in the SEC, a huge baseball conference, and is taking his team to the Super Regionals for the first time in program history. No wonder he sounded so giddy on the phone this morning.

No one saw success coming this soon

Given last season’s struggles and the fact that this is Nick Mingione’s first year as a head coach, everyone – understandably – had guarded expectations for this season…except the team. Mingione took over a program that was coming off back-to-back subpar seasons and had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in the past decade. The Cats were picked in the bottom half of the league in the preseason, started off 2-5, and didn’t break into the national rankings until week five. Now, they’re 43-21, only two wins away from tying the school-record 45 wins in 2012. Mingione found a way to not only connect with his guys early on, but push them to their limits and beyond, which is why he was moved to tears watching them celebrate last night:

It’s captured the excitement of a “basketball school”

UK has broken attendance records all season, and last night, a record 5,005 fans sat through a two-hour and sixteen minute rain delay to cheer on the team to victory, which came sometime around 1:15 a.m. I wasn’t there in person, but everyone who was raves about the experience, many ranking it among their favorites as a UK fan. That says a lot from a school that’s won eight national championships in basketball and is coming off one of the biggest upsets in the football program’s history. People always refer to Kentucky as a basketball school, and it likely always will be, but for the fans who stayed through the rain and well past midnight (including John Calipari), last night was a special moment, exactly the kind a program on the rise needs to break through.

It comes at the perfect time

I’m glad The Cliff got last night because soon, we’ll have another stadium to christen with memories. The Cliff has one more year of use until Kentucky’s new $49 million stadium opens in the fall of 2018, a much-needed upgrade that will put the Bat Cats on par with their SEC peers. In case you missed it all the times they showed it during last night’s broadcast — thanks, SEC Network! — here’s the rendering:

Kentucky’s new stadium combined with their breakout season is music to Mingione’s ears. Known as an ace recruiter, Mingione has already landed several big recruits in his first year in Lexington, and as time goes on, we continue to see why. Who wouldn’t want to play for this guy?

Mingione’s first season rivals John Calipari’s

Hear me out, hear me out. Calipari came to Kentucky as the best recruiter in college basketball; it was not surprising that he brought five-star players — whom he was already recruiting — with him. Playing for a proven coach like Calipari at a powerhouse program like Kentucky is a no-brainer. In college basketball, you only need five good players and, if you’re lucky, a few stars, to make some noise, which Kentucky definitely did in Calipari’s first season. Despite falling short in the Elite Eight, John Wall and Calipari instantly put the Cats back atop college basketball, which is where they’ve stayed ever since.

Contrast that with the UK Baseball team, which had some talent but was coming off years of stalled progress. After Gary Henderson resigned, the players put their faith in an enthusiastic first-year head coach who purposefully kept a grueling season-opening series vs. North Carolina as a litmus test. Bits of success snowballed into boulders of momentum, and now, they’ve accomplished something that no other team in the 121-year history of the program has…and they’re not done yet.

For all the reasons I’ve already listed, UK Baseball’s turnaround in Mingione’s first year as a head coach rivals Calipari’s first year in Lexington; if they make the College World Series, it could even surpass it.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

12 Comments for UK Baseball’s turnaround one of the biggest success stories in school history

  1. TonyMontana
    7:35 pm June 6, 2017 Permalink

    Wait we have a baseball team? Just kidding, congrats to them!

  2. runningunnin.454
    8:39 pm June 6, 2017 Permalink

    You have no idea the “turnaround” in UK baseball that I have now witnessed. As a huge baseball fan, I attended every UK home game in the early ’70’s as faithfully as I did the basketball and football games.
    The Cliff was a vast improvement over the facilities that we had at that time.
    I recall the outfield fences were just that….fences. There were only a few aluminum bleachers for fans…I usually stood up the entire game between home and first base. Most games there were only 30-40 fans at the games.
    We had one decent player, Derek Bryant, who was the first African-American to play at UK. I think he played in the Majors for the Athletics.
    We have come a long way.

  3. Luether
    10:33 pm June 6, 2017 Permalink

    Congrats to the Ky bat-Cats!

  4. Eazy
    10:54 pm June 6, 2017 Permalink

    Reds beat the other Cardinals 13-1 tonight behind 4 bombs from Scooter. The Cards suck.

  5. Kychopsticks
    11:43 pm June 6, 2017 Permalink

    Nick Mingione is amazing. Can’t stop watching baseball with him leading the team! I spectated until 111am. GO CATS!

    • Eazy
      11:00 am June 7, 2017 Permalink

      I was there too. It was rowdy.

  6. jaws2
    12:31 am June 7, 2017 Permalink

    Congrats to the CATS baseballs team!! What a great job by Mangione and these kids!! Good luck in loserville this weekend. I’ll be in FL cheering them on!

  7. ClutchCargo
    2:57 am June 7, 2017 Permalink

    Not gonna lie, I have never been a huge college baseball fan, but I am enjoying the hell out of watching this season unfold. Great to see the Cats becoming a player in the powerhouse SEC.

  8. Penn Chaloaf
    5:37 am June 7, 2017 Permalink

    GO CATS!

  9. Shagaris Sock Puppet
    9:31 am June 7, 2017 Permalink

    This guy aint going no where folks. Go ahead and get used to UK baseball because this Coach isnt going to let us forget about them. This is one hell of a high character guy and one I would want my son to play for. Add in the stadium and all the facilities and this is a powerhouse waiting to bust out. Its amazing what a vision and hard work behind that vision can accomplish in such a short time!

  10. StuckinLville
    11:44 am June 7, 2017 Permalink

    Rivals Cal’s first season? I think it’s better than Cal’s first season. Cal was a proven winner and we knew what we were getting, expectations were there. No one expected this baseball team to do what they did this year so I would say with the exception of Tubby’s first year because he won a title, probably the best season for a first year head coach at UK ever! Also, haters can offically get off Mitch Barnhardts back. He has been a tremedous AD. Just look at the growth in the athletic problem.