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WALK OFF: Kentucky baseball wins first game in Men’s College World Series

Sydney Yonker
Kentucky infielder Mitchell Daly throws the ball during the Kentucky vs Lipscomb baseball game on Friday, Mar. 1, 2024, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky, Kentucky won 7-4. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff

Kentucky baseball (46-14) won in dramatic fashion against NC State (38-22) by a score of 5-4 in its first game in the Men’s College World Series.

In the bottom of the tenth inning with two outs in a 4-4 game, Mitchell Daly connected on a hanging breaking ball, which landed in the Kentucky bullpen beyond the left field wall for a walk-off home run.

As he was mobbed by his teammates at home plate, the Wildcats had won their first ever game in Omaha and set a record for the most wins in a single season in program history at 46.

Third baseman Mitchell Daly throws to first base after fielding a ground ball. Kentucky beat Oregon State 3-2 to win the Lexington Super Regional and advance to the 2024 College World Series on Sunday, June 9, 2024, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Cole Parke | Staff (Cole Parke)

“Just when you guys thought it couldn’t get any better,” Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said. “To God be the glory, what a game.”

Before the late-inning dramatics, Trey Pooser pitched a scoreless first and the Bat Cats jumped out to an early 1-0 lead after Nick Lopez singled up the middle to bring home Émilien Pitre.

The Wolfpack had constant traffic on the bases against Pooser through the first two innings, but finally cashed in after Jacob Cozart singled to bring home Garrett Pennington and tie the game at 1-1.

The tie only held for one inning as, in the bottom of the fourth, Nolan McCarthy deposited a two-run home run over the left field wall to give the Cats a 3-1 lead.

“He just wants to get on, he is a winner,” Daly said about McCarthy. “We follow his lead a lot of the time.”

As pitching prevailed in the later innings, Pooser had his cleanest inning of work in the sixth as he tossed a three-up, three-down frame, which earned him a chance to pitch the seventh.

Noah Soles tagged him for a leadoff single, but Pooser bounced back by striking out Eli Serrano III and Pennington for two outs, but he was unable to avoid danger as Alec Makarewicz hit a two-run home run into right field seats to tie the game at 3-3.

Robert Hogan took over in the top of the ninth trying to keep the game tied and walked Pennington before getting an out. Jacob Cozart then singled down the right field line to advance Pennington to third before Johnny Hummel relieved Hogan and spiked the first pitch he threw for a wild pitch that brought home the runner and gave the Wolfpack a 4-3 lead.

Kentucky infielder Ryan Nicholson swings 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 (Isaiah Pinto)

After Kentucky fell behind for the first time in the NCAA Tournament, Ryan Nicholson sent a home run just inside the left field foul pole to tie the game 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth.

“(Nick Ammirati) just brought us together and he was like, ‘Hey, this is what we play for, lets have some fun, let’s do this,’” Daly said about the message before the ninth. “When he hit that home run, no one was surprised.”

Following the homer, McCarthy singled to left and was removed for a pinch runner as Ty Crittenberger came on. Derrick Smith relieved Jacob Dudan and faced Patrick Herrera, who pinch hit for McCoy and laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Crittenberger to second.

Grant Smith grounded out for the second out, but Crittenberger moved to third regardless. Ryan Waldschmidt then drew a walk to bring runners to the corners, but Pitre lined out to end the inning and send the game to extras.

After Hummel pitched a three-up, three-down top of the tenth, Burkes drew a walk but was caught stealing for the second out, dampening spirits right before Daly connected with the game winner.

“(Austin Cousino) said, ‘He leaves it up sometimes,’ and I saw it up and just went for it,” Daly said.

With the win, Kentucky will take on the winner of Florida and Texas A&M on Monday, June 17, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. 

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Jonathon Bruner, Assistant Sports Editor

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