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FLU GAME: Mason Moore overcomes illness to boost Kentucky baseball to Super Regional

Jack Weaver
Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Mason Moore (20) warms up in the bullpen during the Kentucky vs. Morehead State baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 15-1. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

While Mason Moore continued his postseason dominance for Kentucky baseball in his region-winning start against Indiana State on Sunday, there was initial doubt if he’d even take the mound.

The Wildcat righty can normally be seen in the dugout standing on the bench with his pink bucket hat on while cheering on his team, but in the team’s win over Illinois, he wasn’t. In fact, he was not even in the ballpark as he was sent home by the Kentucky training staff after he was sick with a stomach bug.

Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Mason Moore (20) pitches the ball during the No. 18 Kentucky vs. No. 25 Missouri baseball game on Sunday, April 2, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 3-1. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

“It kinda hit me yesterday before the game in the morning, I had a bug,” Moore said. “Richie (Wells) and the trainers got me right, they put two bags of IVs in my arm.”

Despite being sent home to rest, his condition left doubt regarding whether or not Moore was going to be able to take the mound, but all that was relieved by a single text message to his skipper.

“At 7:36 my phone goes off, it’s a text message from Mason,” Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said. “This is what he said, ‘HERE WE GOOOO, just to update you, I’m feeling better and back to normal, I’m ready to throw and win us a ballgame tomorrow coach.’”

To say the message relieved his head coach, who otherwise would’ve had his entire weekend plan turned upside down, may be an understatement.

“You want to know my reply? ‘Got it, get some rest, can’t wait to watch you,’ in all caps, ‘DOMINATE tomorrow. Call me if you need anything,’” Mingione said. “I went to bed knowing and I slept real good last night.”

Even as the righty got to the ballpark and began warming up after waiting through a lengthy rain delay, he was still not feeling his best, but the statement that “adrenaline can make you do crazy things” may have reigned true again.

“It was huge tonight, I could tell a little bit in warmups I was not feeling the greatest,” Moore said. “BBN showing out and family and friends coming out, wanting me to perform good, that helps out with adrenaline cause I obviously wasn’t feeling my best.” 

After all the chaos the previous 24 hours had been, as “Over” by Drake played through the speakers at Kentucky Proud Park, Moore took the mound in the bottom of the first inning.

He gave up a single to leadoff the game, but it was quickly nullified by a strikeout out and a sparkling double play as shortstop Grant Smith dove to stop the hard grounder and flipped the ball to second baseman Émilien Pitre, who fired it over to first to end the inning.

Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Mason Moore (20) pitches the ball during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 5-4. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

Pitching in the second with a 2-0 lead, Moore worked around a one-out walk to keep the Sycamores scoreless.

The Wildcat righty found himself in his first bit of trouble in the third after he gave up two singles with an out in between, but he was able to get two groundouts to evade the trouble.

Indiana State continued to make Moore work as he gave up a double to Mike Sears to leadoff the third, but this time a heads up play by third baseman Mitchell Daly made things easier on him as the latter fielded a high chopper and tagged Sears out trying to move to third. Moore settled back down and got out of the inning via a fly out and a groundout.

“His resilience and his poise was excellent on the mound,” Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs said.

The biggest jam Moore found himself in came in the fifth as he walked back-to-back hitters to lead off the inning.

He got a strikeout to begin trying to perform another escape act, but he spiked a pitch that allowed the runner on second to move to third. He then got another huge assist from his defense as Smith made a spectacular lunging catch in shallow left field – a play that earned the No. 1 spot on SportsCenter top 10 – for the second out. 

Luis Hernandez was next and hit a hard ground ball to Daly, who threw him out to retire the side as emotion poured out of Moore as he screamed in celebration before dapping up and pounding chests with his catcher, Devin Burkes, who matched his energy.

After letting out such emotion, the question on the mind of everyone became whether or not Mingione should send him back out? For the head coach himself, there was no question.

Kentucky Wildcats pitcher Mason Moore (20) pitches the ball during the Kentucky vs. Evansville home opener baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 6-3. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

“After everything he went through yesterday, all of that was going through my mind,” Mingione said. “I look at him (pitching coach Dan Roszel) and he goes, ‘He’s going back out there, he’s gotta get us another inning,’ and he was so confident.”

It ended up being a great call as he pitched a three-up, three-down sixth inning to complete his 106-pitch masterclass.

With the Cats once again going on to secure the victory and the Lexington Region, one year after being on the mound in the region championship against Indiana, Moore once again found himself in a prominent role leading the Wildcats to a Super Regional.

“He has the clutch gene,” Mingione said. “To have a guy do this two years in a row, to have somebody for his state school who bleeds blue has been awesome.”

Since coming to Kentucky, Moore has solidified himself as a dominant pitcher in the postseason, having pitched 20.1 scoreless innings the past two NCAA Tournaments, but the righty refuses to take credit for it.

“It’s really just the defense,” Moore said. “When you have guys like Grant, Pete (Pitre), (Ryan) Nicholson, Mitch and Waldy (Ryan Waldschmidt) everybody, it’s easy to go out there and pound the zone and let them make plays for me.”

Moore will have a chance to further solidify his postseason legacy when he takes the mound next in the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament, which Kentucky will host for the first time in program history as it takes on the Oregon State Beavers.

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Jonathon Bruner, Assistant Sports Editor

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