Kentucky baseball prepares for 2022 season

Cole Parke

Kentucky baseball looks to open its season on Friday, Feb. 18, in a three-game road series against Jacksonville State.

The Wildcats are led by head coach Nick Mingione, who has been with the team for five years, amassing 143 wins, including a 29-win season in 2021.

With nine televised games this season, Kentucky will look to continue where it left off last season, hoping to become the fourteenth and final team in the SEC to reach the College Baseball World Series.

“This is an uber competitive group,” Mingione said on Feb. 8. “We’ve been doing some of our live batter and pitcher confrontations and we hear the trash talking and see them go at each other with good internal competitiveness.”

In the offseason, Kentucky returned nearly its entire pitching rotation, while adding eight Division-I transfers. With the combination of returning stars and transfers added, the Cats boast one of the deepest pitching staffs in recent memory.

“We’re an experienced team,” Mingione said. “I’m talking about pitching and defense. Last year I said we needed to be better defensively and we were. I fully expect us to be a really good defensive team.”

Coach Mingione continued to compliment his team’s veterans, focusing in on said pitching staff that made headlines as the season drew near.

“[The pitchers] consider themselves the tip of the spear,” he said. “I’m really excited about our pitching staff. This is the first time we’ve really had pitching experience since maybe 2018. We returned every single SEC win on the mound, which is something I’ve never been a part of before.”

While the pitching staff draws its fair share of praise, someone else deserving is junior shortstop Ryan Ritter.

Ritter, who earned 49 hits in 2021, was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the field, finishing the season with a .966 fielding percentage. His efforts were enough to earn him a spot on the preseason All-SEC Second Team by league coaches.

“It’s good [to be recognized], but I’m not satisfied,” Ritter said. “There’s a lot more to prove, but it’s cool to get those acknowledgements.”

With the upcoming series against Jacksonville State, the Cats expect to open the season 3-0 on the road before returning home to Lexington.

“There’s no pressure to win and reach the postseason, that’s the expectation,” Mingione said. “That’s something I’ll give this team credit for, they want to win and they’re coachable. They’re committed to winning and that’s been fun to coach.”

For its home opener inside Kentucky Proud Park, Kentucky hosts Southeast Missouri State for one game on Feb. 22.

In its first home series of the season, Kentucky welcomes Western Michigan on Feb. 25 for a three-game set.

Jumping ahead to Mar. 4, Kentucky welcomes TCU, who made it onto the road to Omaha in the postseason before being knocked out by Oregon State in game five of the Fort Worth regional hosted by Dallas Baptist.

Conference play is set to kick-off on March 18, with the Cats traveling to Fayetteville for a three-game series against No .2 Arkansas, who made it all the way to Super Regionals in last year’s postseason.

Moving forward into the heart of conference play, Kentucky made its schedule to allow for local single-game refreshers in between difficult SEC series, hosting Morehead State on March 22, Eastern Kentucky on March 29, Bellarmine on April 12, Dayton on April 26, UT Martin on May 10 and Tennessee Tech on May 17.

In two challenging single-game showdowns, Kentucky hosts Louisville on April 5, then later travels to Louisville on Apr. 19, keeping baseball’s Governor’s Cup battle alive and well.

Kentucky finishes its regular season at home, hosting a three-game set against Auburn.

While the SEC is a difficult conference to compete in regardless of the sport, SEC baseball takes it to the next level, with nine out of 14 teams making it onto the road to Omaha last season, six of those teams making super regionals, and three making the final trip to Omaha for the World Series.

 If that wasn’t impressive enough, the 2021 championship series featured an SEC matchup between Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, with the Bulldogs ultimately walking away as champions.

“That’s the life of an SEC coach,” Mingione said regarding the team’s schedule. “We all face difficult schedules full of ranked teams. “Our expectation is not only to make the postseason, but to go on a run.”

Kentucky’s road series against Jacksonville State is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. E.S.T. on Friday, Feb. 18, from Jim Case Stadium.