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SEC CHAMPIONS: Kentucky baseball earns share of first regular season title since 2006

Isaiah Pinto
Kentucky baseball players celebrate during the Kentucky vs Louisville baseball game on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, at Jim Patterson Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. Kentucky won 17-13. Photo by Isaiah Pinto | Staff

No. 2 Kentucky baseball (39-11 22-7 SEC) defeated Vanderbilt (34-20 12-17 SEC) in mercy rule fashion by a score of 17-7 to clinch the 2024 regular season SEC Championship.

The championship was the Wildcats’ first since 2006 and their first inside of Kentucky Proud Park.

“That’s what I told them tonight,” Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said. “They’ll forever be SEC Champions and no one will ever be able to take that away and they’ll remember tonight for the rest of your life.”

Kentucky Wildcats outfielder James McCoy (13) celebrates during the Kentucky vs. Ole Miss baseball game on Sunday, March 31, 2023, at Swayze Field in Oxford, Mississippi. Kentucky won 15-1. Photo provided by Ole Miss Athletics

The celebrations began before the game as Kentucky celebrated its senior class. 

One of those seniors, Ryan Hagenow, pitched scoreless third and fourth innings and was credited the win, moving his season record to 2-0. 

“Yeah, it’s pretty surreal to me,” Hagenow said. “I haven’t quite soaked everything in. Super proud of this team and you know, any way I can contribute I love doing.” 

During the game, the offense continued to click as it scored in every inning and was led by Ryan Waldschmidt, who finished the game 4-4, which included a home run on the first pitch of the game. Émilen Pitre followed that up with a home run of his own, which tied the game at 2-2 and ignited the offense for the rest of the game. 

Before long, Nolan McCarthy gave the Bat Cats a 3-2 lead on a bases-loaded single. 

“It’s just awesome,” McCarthy said, reflecting on prior seasons. “It all culminated together and just came true this year and we got a lot more to go but it’s awesome, this feeling right now.”

The Wildcats plated two more runs in the inning on a James McCoy fielder’s choice and a balk by Commodore starter Carter Holton.

After the Commodores plated two more runs in the second, the Wildcats responded by adding a run on a Devin Burkes sacrifice fly, which made the lead 6-4. 

The Wildcats plated two more runs in the third on Grant Smith fielder’s choice and a single by Waldschmidt, which extended the lead to 8-4 before Ryan Nicholson plated two more runs in the fourth on a double. 

The scoring continued in the fifth when the Wildcats plated three runs on a Burkes single, Lopez fielder’s choice and Daly single, which extended the lead to 13-4. 

The Commodores put up three runs in the sixth, but Kentucky responded by putting up four of its own as the runs came across on a Daly walk, Nicholson hit-by-pitch and a McCarthy single. 

As Evan Byers secured the final out of the win, the celebration began as fireworks began shooting beyond the left field wall and Mingione was showered in Gatorade by his players. 

“Those are the best,” Mingione said about the Gatorade shower. “It just means you won a championship. Really my favorite thing to do is to watch them celebrate.”

Despite winning a share of the SEC Championship in game two, Kentucky can win the championship outright and clinch the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament with a game-three win over Vanderbilt. 

“Emotions? Yes, will they be sharp and locked in tomorrow? I’m 100% confident because that’s what this team has been able to do through the good and the bad,” Mingione said. 

Game three will take place on Saturday, May 18, with first pitch scheduled for Noon ET. 

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Jonathon Bruner, Assistant Sports Editor

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