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PREVIEW: Kentucky faces potential Men’s College World Series elimination against Florida

Cole Parke
Kentucky Pitcher Robert Hogan delivers a pitch to home plate. 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 losing its first game in the Men’s College World Series, Kentucky baseball will face off against Florida in an elimination game.

Despite being the higher seed — due to tournament rules — Kentucky will be the away team in the matchup.

The game will not be the first meeting between the two teams as they previously met in Gainesville earlier in the season when the Wildcats won two tightly-contested games and were blown out in the middle game.

Kentucky Wildcats (46-15)

The Bat Cats enter the elimination matchup after losing 5-1 to Texas A&M in a game where their offense struggled.

Offensive players to watch

Both Ryan Nicholson and Nolan McCarthy continued their hot streaks in a game where offense was hard to come by for the Wildcats.

Starting with Nicholson, the lefty went 2-4 with a single that broke up a no-hit bid and a home run that resulted in the Wildcats’ lone score of the night.

On the year, Nicholson leads the team with a .703 slugging percentage while also posting a .312 batting average and a .412 on-base percentage.

As for McCarthy, he went 1-3 in game two with a single and his numbers now display a .291 batting average, .383 on-base percentage and a 485 slugging percentage.

Pitching staff

One of the few positives that came from the Wildcats’ game two defeat is that they did not use any of their higher leverage arms outside of Cameron O’Brien, who will likely be unavailable.

If head coach Nick Mingione chooses to go with his last remaining starter, that would mean Dominic Niman would get the ball with the season on the line. The lefty last pitched in the team’s opening game of the Lexington Regional against Western Michigan and he surrendered five runs in four innings.

One the year, Niman has posted a 6.24 ERA as he’s given up 49 earned runs in 70.2 innings pitched and has also struck out 66 batters. Hitters are batting .274 against Niman.

Another option could be to piece together various bullpen arms such as Robert Hogan, Ryan Hagenow, Johnny Hummel, Jackson Nove and others in a “pitching-by-committee” style.

Regardless, for the Wildcats to advance they will have to win three games in three days without losing again, so fans may see the Cats attempt to save some of their higher leverage guys for the following days.

Florida Gators (35-19)

After losing their first game against Texas A&M, the Gators responded by defeating the NC State Wolfpack in an elimination game by a score of 5-4, setting up the matchup with Kentucky.

Offensive players to watch

The Florida offense largely runs through top-five MLB Draft prospect in Jac Caglianone, who hit a three-run home run that was the difference in the team’s win over NC State.

At the plate, Caglianone has put together a jaw-dropping season that showcases a .413 batting average, .537 on-base percentage and a .868 slugging percentage.

Another player to watch out for is Michael Robertson as he is 4-8 in the Gators’ two games in Omaha out of the ninth spot in the order.

Looking at his numbers on the year, Robertson has posted a .267 batting average, .328 on-base percentage and a .376 slugging percentage.

Pitching staff

Caglianone started on the bump for Florida in game two and only tossed one inning, which caused the bullpen to be leaned on heavily.

Cade Fisher pitched four innings in relief and threw 75 pitches, so it’s almost certain he will not be available against the Cats.

Brandon Neely pitched the final three innings in relief and threw 46 pitches, but Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has not hesitated to use the righty in consecutive days in the postseason in the past.

That has worked out well for UF because, in 21 innings this postseason, Neely has posted a 1.29 ERA as he’s only allowed three runs and struck out 32 batters, which is good for 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Following the win over NC State, O’Sullivan announced that Pierce Coppola will get the start against the Wildcats.

Coppola threw 2.2 innings against the Wildcats in their earlier series and surrendered one unearned run.

On the year, Coppola has posted a 9.16 ERA as he’s given up 19 earned runs in 18.2 innings of work. The lefty has struck out 26 batters and hitters are hitting .303 against him. 

With the stage now set, Kentucky and Florida will write another chapter in their rivalry as they will face-off in an elimination game in the Men’s College World Series on Tuesday, June 18, 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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