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Kentucky baseball end of season Kernel Sports awards

Cole Parke
Kentucky Pitcher Robert Hogan celebrates after striking out a batter ending the inning. Kentucky beat Oregon State 3-2 to win the Lexington Super Regional and advance to the 2024 College World Series on Monday, June 10, 2024, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Cole Parke | Staff

Editor’s note: These awards were picked by and are the opinion of the author and do not represent the opinions of the entire Kentucky Kernel.

With Kentucky baseball now fully into the offseason, it’s only fitting to hand out end of season awards.

Most Valuable Player (MVP) – No. 25 Ryan Nicholson

When the slugging lefty arrived from Cincinnati, very few thought he could live up to the performance of Hunter Gilliam in 2023, but Ryan Nicholson was able to do just that.

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)

On the season, he finished with a .306 batting average, .405 on-base percentage and a .689 slugging percentage.

While only the slugging percentage led all hitters, his value meant so much more than that. Nicholson’s ability to add the home run threat to the lineup made it even more versatile and hard to pitch to.

None of that is to mention that Nicholson finished with 23 home runs, which tied for the most in a single season at Kentucky.

What set him over the top for the MVP award was the clutch factors as, in the biggest of spots with the game on the line, if the baton was in Nicholson’s hands, he came through.

One of those times came in game one against Florida when he delivered a go-ahead three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning.

Despite having several swings to choose from, the biggest swing of the year off of Nicholson’s bat was his game-tying home run in the bottom of ninth against NC State in the Bat Cats’ first game in program history in the Men’s College World Series.

Cy Young – No. 51 Trey Pooser

When the year began, a pitcher that was hardly on anyone’s radar was Trey Pooser, which was fair because he did not even start off in the weekend rotation.

Despite that, opportunity knocked on his door in the second weekend of SEC play when Travis Smith was sidelined with an injury and he took full advantage of the chance he was given.

For the rest of the season, he was as reliable as it gets, which was critical as, at one point in the season, both of the other weekend starters, Dominic Niman and Mason Moore, were going through slumps at the same time, so having that guaranteed quality outing was critical.

Perhaps what was most impressive about the righty was his consistency as, in his 10 starts on the season, he pitched five innings in every start but one and did not allow more than four runs in any start.

The success for Pooser carried right over into the postseason as well as he pitched seven innings and allowed one run in his Lexington Regional start before one-upping that with seven shutout innings in his Lexington Super Regional Start.

In his start at the Men’s College World Series, Pooser gave the Wildcats 6.2 innings of three-run baseball.

Those types of performances and being able to give the team innings while keeping it in the game — or essentially winning the game — are qualities of an ace, which Pooser undoubtedly turned himself into this season for Kentucky.

On the year, Pooser finished with a 3.50 ERA in his 90 innings of work as he gave up 35 earned runs and struck out 82 hitters while also holding opposing hitters to a .211 batting average.

Reliever of the Year – No. 49 Johnny Hummel

Kentucky pitcher Johnny Hummel celebrates after striking out the last batter sending Kentucky to the College World Series. Kentucky beat Oregon State 3-2 to win the Lexington Super Regional and advance to the 2024 College World Series on Monday, June 10, 2024, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Cole Parke | Staff (Cole Parke)

Sticking to the mound, Johnny Hummel quickly arrived on the scene in Lexington, showcasing his wicked off-speed pitches that earned him the closer role for the team.

After starting out near unhittable, the righty did come back down to earth some, but quickly rebounded back to form.

Looking at his numbers on the year, Hummel pitched to a 3.48 ERA as he gave up 12 earned runs in 31 innings of work while striking out 41 batters. The impressive figure from Hummel was his team-leading .155 batting average against.

In a bullpen that was shaky at times for Kentucky, Hummel proved that he could get the job done more times than not.

Gold Glove Award – No. 12 Grant Smith

Despite missing some time with injury, when Grant Smith was at shortstop, it was poetry in motion on a baseball field.

It seemed like there was no play he could not make and oftentimes, if a ball got past him, then it’s getting past just about anyone.

Towards the end of the year, it almost became more surprising to see him make an error than to see him pull off these absolutely sensational plays. 

No play showcased this more than his catch against Indiana State in the Lexington Regional in a critical point of the ballgame when he ran all the way from around behind second base into left field where he lunged and made the catch.

This play even earned national attention as it charted No. 1 on SportsCenter Top 10.

Smith finished with four errors on the year and a .980 fielding percentage.

OMG Moment of the Year – Mitchell Daly walk off home run against NC State in the Men’s College World Series

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)

As if the nerves and anticipation were not high enough for Kentucky’s first ever angle in Omaha, nine innings were not enough to decide the ballgame as Daly stepped into the box with one out.

The one-out spot was short-lived, however, as it immediately turned to two outs after Devin Burkes was caught stealing.

That ended up being irrelevant as, on the very next pitch, Daly sent a home run into the Cats’ bullpen beyond the left field wall, which dropped the jaws of the team, Big Blue Nation and college baseball fans all over the world.

The walk off home run wasn’t only on the grandest stage in college baseball, it also earned Kentucky its first ever win in Omaha.

Game of the Year – 5-4 win over NC State in the Men’s College World Series

After all the excitement and happiness about the Bat Cats finally making it to Omaha for the first time in program history, it was time to play ball as they took the field against the Wolfpack.

The contest exceeded all expectations and it was about as dramatic as a game can get.

The Wildcats found themselves with a 1-0 lead after an inning of play, but it was short lived as NC State tied the ballgame in the top of the third.

This score only held an inning as Nolan McCarthy hit a two-run home run to put the Wildcats ahead 3-1.

It was then that Alec Makarewicz launched a two-home run of his own into the right field seats, which tied the score yet again this time at 3-3.

In the top of the ninth, a wild pitch by Hummel allowed the Wolfpack to plate the go-ahead run.

The seesaw battle continued as Nicholson led off the bottom of the ninth with a game-tying home run over the left field wall, sending the game into extra innings. 

After Hummel pitched a scoreless 10th, Burkes reached to leadoff the inning before Nick Lopez made the first out. Daly stepped up to the plate and during his at-bat, Burkes was thrown out for the second out. The seesaw swung one more time in the game as the final pitch of the game was thrown by Derrick Smith as Daly hit it over the left field wall for a walk off home run. 

Rookie of the Year- No. 48 Ben Cleaver

With a much older team on the field for Kentucky this season, freshman saw limited playing time and, for Ben Cleaver, this was lessened even more by an injury-filled season.

The lanky lefty made limited appearances, but appeared in some high leverage spots where he really burst onto the scene. The first came against Florida with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the winning run at the plate as Cleaver struck out Landon Russell to secure the game and series for his team.

After a shaky outing against Vanderbilt, Cleaver delivered two huge scoreless innings of relief in the SEC Tournament against South Carolina, which gave his team a chance to comeback even though it was unable to.

Cleaver is certainly a pitcher to keep an eye on for the years to come as he impressed in his first campaign in blue and white despite injuries along with limited usage. 

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

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