'Cats on the attack': Kentucky makes history, advancing to first-ever College World Series

Kentucky swept Oregon State over the weekend, making its first-ever College World Series appearance.
Jun 9, 2024; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt (21) holds up the NCAA Super Regional Championship trophy after winning against the Oregon State Beavers at Kentucky Proud Park. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 9, 2024; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt (21) holds up the NCAA Super Regional Championship trophy after winning against the Oregon State Beavers at Kentucky Proud Park. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports / Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

2024 is a year to remember for the Kentucky baseball program -- because it is now the most successful in program history.

Following a second-straight year making it to the Super Regionals, Kentucky swept Oregon State this weekend to advance to its first-ever College World Series. So, how much of a whirlwind have the past two weeks of postseason play been?

"This has been the best two weeks of my life. Yep. I mean, I don’t know how you can make it better," Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said. "We sat in this room — is it Monday? Two weeks ago. There we go. Two weeks ago we sat here and we had the whole team and they did the selection show and we were the No. 2 national seed."

Mingione was vocal heading into the Super Regionals that he needed every ounce of energy from his fans -- even sending a fiery message to the fanbase heading into the weekend. What happened? Back-to-back record-setting crowds in Saturday's and then Sunday's games.

Kentucky, now 5-0 in the 2024 NCAA Tournament, is one step closer to its ultimate goal of winning the National Championship.

Sunday's win also tied the program's record for wins in a single season (45). Part of what has made this specific team so successful has been the true 'love' each player has for each other and the family feel that this team has.

"We believe that feedback is the breakfast of champions," Mingione said. "And our guys, they do love one another, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have internal conflict sometimes. And I’ve explained to them that that’s okay.

"If we’re truly a family — I don’t know about your family but our family was far from perfect and there was internal conflict — but when you love someone, you care enough to give them feedback and you challenge them sometimes. You have to. That’s what the great teams do, is they communicate at a high level and they hold each other accountable. The hardest part is to get them to hold each other accountable."

Accountability and teamwork have been what has spearheaded the success this year. That was on full display in Sunday's 3-2 clinching win.

Pitching has been the most succesul part of Kentucky's season. But, on Sunday starting pitcher Mason Moore struggled with control. While he didn't give up a hit in his 3.1 innings pitched, he allowed two runs and walked six batters.

However, the Kentucky bullpen stepped up. Cam O’Brien relieved Moore with bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning. But, he got the Cats out of the jam, striking out back-to-back batters. His three innings yielded just one hit and no runs, while striking out five. It was a massive outing for the righty.

"We often say in our program, the standard is the standard, regardless of what it is. If someone is not meeting the standard, they need to be told about it," Said Mingione. "Eventually, when you get to the spot where you trust one another enough and you love one another, you can handle that and you don’t get your pride in the way.

"The strength of our team is our team. I reminded them of that every game."

That 'team' atmosphere was needed again when tied 2-2 in the seventh inning.

Grant Smith was up to bat for Kentucky. While he swung and missed on a third-strike, it was the heads up play by Nolan McCarthy that again showcased that 'team' ability.

The pitch got away from Oregon State catcher Wilson Weber allowing Smith to advance to first base. While that was ongoing, McCarthy, who was on second, advanced to third base ... but he didn't stop there. He saw Weber still going after the ball, which left home wide open. He rounded third and went in an all-out sprint to home, sliding head-first to a safe signal from the ump.

It was the deciding run. It encapsulated the entire mantra of Kentucky's season. 'Victory must be earned every day'. That means all the details always matter no matter when you play, who you're playing and where you're playing.

"Victory must be earned when? Every day. This is a new day. We have to earn it today," Mingione said. "This is how life works. You’ve got to get up and go to work every day. It doesn’t stop.

"And the way we’re going to do it is go on the attack. Now that you say that, that was just a beautiful way for us to go to Omaha, a guy attacking, and maybe you can just show the Superman picture of him (McCarthy) flying right through there. That would be a cool pic. Cats on the attack."

Kentucky now moves on to face the winner of Georgia and NC State in the College World Series, looking to 'earn it' once again.

"That’s what we’ve done to this team. Every time we challenge them — we call it a man challenge. We call them out, try to get them to step up, this team responds," Mingione added. "And they respond to each other and they respond to the coaches."