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PREVIEW: Kentucky faces SEC foe Texas A&M in Men’s College World Series

Cole Parke
Kentucky players stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. 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

After winning its first game in the Men’s College World Series, Kentucky baseball is set to take on Texas A&M in a winner’s bracket matchup.

Despite both teams being in the SEC, the game will be the first matchup between the Aggies and Wildcats.

Kentucky Wildcats (46-14, 22-8 SEC)

The Bat Cats made their Omaha debut special as Ryan Nicholson hit a game-tying home run in the ninth to send the game to extras, where Mitchell Daly hit a walk-off home run to secure the 5-4 victory over NC State.

Offensive players to watch

Entering the game two matchup, Nicholson is one of, if not the hottest hitter on the team with an eight-game hitting streak after going 3-4 in the Bat Cats’ first game in Omaha.

On the year, the power-hitting lefty has hit 22 home runs, which is the most in a single season under head coach Nick Mingione, and leads the team with a .692 slugging percentage while also posting a .308 batting average and a .410 on-base percentage.

Another hitter who has been heating up lately and shined with a 2-3 effort — including a home run in Kentucky’s first game — is Nolan McCarthy.

On the season, McCarthy has posted a .292 batting average, .386 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage.

Pitching staff

As far as starters go, after Trey Pooser got the ball in game one, it’s likely Mason Moore will take the hill for the Cats in game two. On the year, the right hander has posted a 4.93 ERA across 87.2 innings of work as he allowed 48 earned runs and struck out 80 batters. Opposing hitters are batting .234 against Moore.

When looking at the bullpen, despite the high-leverage trio of Robert Hogan, Johnny Hummel and Cameron O’Brien being used in game one, a day off should ensure all three will be available for game two as none of them went longer than two innings in the victory.

Texas A&M Aggies (50-13, 19-11 SEC)

The Aggies find themselves in Omaha after defeating the Oregon Ducks in the College Station Super Regional. In their first game in the College World Series, they showcased a flair for the dramatic as Jace LaViolette robbed what would’ve been a go-ahead home run in the top of ninth in the team’s win over Florida.

Offensive players to watch

One of the Aggies’ most prominent bats for most of the season was Braden Montgomery, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the team’s Super Regional matchup.

Regardless, Texas A&M is still in great shape at the plate and will be a handful for Kentucky pitching.

The team’s leader in batting average is Hayden Schott, who enters the game with a .331 batting average while also showcasing a .417 on-base percentage and a .504 slugging percentage.

Just behind him is Jackson Appel, who has put together a complete stat-line of a .326 batting average, .421 on-base percentage and a .540 slugging percentage.

Rounding out the threats is LaViolette as he leads the team with a .751 slugging percentage and also leads all current starters with a .453 on-base percentage while also posting a .311 batting average.

Pitching staff

In the team’s win over Florida, it used two of its high-leverage relievers in Chris Cortez and the 2024 Stopper of The Year Evan Aschenbeck for three innings each.

On the year, Cortez has posted  a 2.98 ERA and a .192 batting average against. Aschenbeck, on the other hand, has pitched to a 1.59 ERA and a .189 batting average against.

The Aggies do possess a deep bullpen and, with the day off in-between games, it certainly does not mean the Wildcats won’t see one — or both — of these arms, but the question may become the length that the duo could pitch.

Looking at portable starters, it’s likely the Aggies will send their ace Ryan Prager to the hill as he did not start in the team’s first game.

Looking at his numbers on the year, the lefty has posted a 3.10 ERA in 87 innings of work as he has given up 30 earned runs. Another important element to Prager’s game is the strikeout as he has sat down 114 batters this season via strikeout.

With the stage now set, Kentucky and Texas A&M will square off at Charles Schwab field on Monday, June 17, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.

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About the Contributors
Jonathon Bruner, Assistant Sports Editor
Cole Parke, Sports Editor

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