By Dalton Ray–
Perhaps the most intriguing NCAA Super Regional series is between in-state rivals Louisville and Kentucky. Known for their basketball rivalry, the Cardinals are 12-10 against Kentucky since coach Dan McDonnell took over the program in 2007.
For Louisville and Kentucky’s first ever postseason battle, we reached out to the Kentucky Kernel’s baseball beat writer Charlee Schaefer to gain more insight on the Wildcats.
Question: Coach Nick Minigione took Kentucky to their first ever Super Regional in his first season as head coach. What type of style does he bring to the table?
Answer: Coach Mingione is a motivator. From day one, he has pushed the team to be their best selves. He always focuses on the positive and does not let his players make excuses for anything. The coaching staff and the players love and trust one another and they are a family.
Q: Kentucky has seven batters with a batting average over .300 and rank seventh in the nation in overall average. What is the difference between the bats this year and last year?
A: With a lineup complete with many left-handed batters and two switch-hitters, they bring a different approach to the plate. This team jives well together and they focus on team goals, rather than individual. They truly want the best for their teammates.
Q: UK has four established pitchers, but none have a ERA under .350. Is that more on the pitching staff or defense?
A: Coach (Jim) Belanger and the rest of the staff have done great things with the team this year. Pitchers have off days in which they heavily rely on defense, which hasn’t been the strongest this year.
Q: Before Regionals, Kentucky lost four out of five. Is it safe to say the Wildcats have shaken that spell? How so?
A: The Cats did not perform well in Gainesville against the University of Florida, or at the SEC Tournament. They put too much pressure on themselves and played tight. Streaks in baseball are very important and if the players pour into each other as they did this weekend, they will be unstoppable.
Q: Who are two players U of L players need to be aware of this coming weekend?
A: UK’s ace and SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle and All-American first baseman Evan White. Hjelle is coming off of one of his best performances of the year, the regional championship, where he threw only 35 pitches in three innings, and struck out five batters. White is considered one of the best first basemen in college baseball and is a force on both sides of the ball.
Q: Who wins and why?
A: Kentucky will win because they are on a winning streak that will be hard to beat. UK is hungry for a title because they have never made it this far and they have something to prove. The University of Kentucky is known for basketball, and it is time that that changed. The Cats are one of the strongest teams offensively in the nation and their defense has improved immensely.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal