Kentucky baseball’s “Bat Cats” boast nation’s longest win streak heading into key SEC series


Travis Fannon

Kentucky Wildcats outfielder/infielder Ryan Waldschmidt (21) readies to throw the ball back to the infield during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 5-4. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky baseball, despite being in a bit of a slump in recent years, has found its comeback, with the “Bat Cats” surging to a 19-2 record on the season and a 15-game winning streak, the longest winning streak at the Division-1 level.

Ending the 2022 season 33-26 with a series win over eventual No. 1 Tennessee, Kentucky just barely missed out on the NCAA Baseball Championship Tournament, ending its season with a loss to the Vols in the SEC Tournament.

Entering the 2023 season with not a lot of expectations, many fans were even leaning in the opposite direction, calling for head coach Nick Mingione to be fired after the team hadn’t made it to the baseball championship since 2017, the first year of Mingione’s tenure.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione stands at third base during the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 4-2. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

This was further exemplified when the Cats lost their season opener against Elon, being shut out entirely and surrendering two runs.

Kentucky quickly bounced back from the loss though, winning games two and three by a combined 9-1 to claim victory in its first series.

The team then opened up its home season at Kentucky Proud Park on Feb. 24, which was significant for being the first Kentucky game to ever feature the public sale of alcohol, something Mingione commended, welcoming the additional fan support and media presence to the team.

Facing Evansville, Kentucky managed to get a 6-3 win to improve to 3-1 on the season.

Then, taking on its first home series of the year, Kentucky took game one against Wright State 8-3 before a disaster on the pitching mound led to a 12-9 defeat

Whether it be embarrassment or motivation, the loss triggered something in the Cats, who went on to win game three in a convincing 15-0 shutout.

Hosting Morehead State as part of the midweek slate, the “Bat Cats” returned, punching the Eagles in the mouth en route to a 15-1 thrashing.

Staying home for the weekend, Kentucky earned its first sweep of the season when it took care of business against Indiana State and followed it up with a 6-2 win over Murray State in the midweek.

Scheduling one more midweek game before another road series, the Cats took down Ohio University 9-2 and hit the road for Southern Illinois.

Kentucky players high-five in the dugout before the Kentucky vs. Indiana State baseball game on Sunday, March 5, 2023, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 7-6. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff (Travis Fannon)

Winning game one 5-4 in extra innings, Kentucky once again refound its flashy plate skills, winning game two and three by a combined 28-5, including a 21-3 game three for the first road sweep of the year for UK.

Facing its first power five team of the year, fans were cautiously optimistic as the Wildcats hosted Indiana and became overjoyed when they bore witness to the returning “Bat Cats,” who promptly dismantled the Hoosiers 12-2.

Heading into its first SEC series of the season many fans were ready for the ride to end and reality to set in, but this never seemed to happen as Kentucky forced extra innings in game one and subsequently won 6-5.

Then, similarly to the series against SIU, the “Bat Cats” exploded in games two and three, winning by a combined 29-6, scoring 12 in game two and 17 in game three.

Most recently Kentucky hosted EKU on Tuesday and, despite falling behind, the Wildcats channeled their big-hitting energy and, seemingly in the blink of an eye, turned a 3-2 deficit into a 9-3 lead.

“Devin Burkes just shared this with the team, he said, ‘Look guys, we were down but we didn’t panic,’” Mingione said. “That’s what good teams do, right? They stay confident. They understand.”

Now heading into Alabama for its second SEC series, the matchups seemed to be straight out of an episode of “The Twilight Zone” as the Crimson Tide, who kicked off the season No. 20 in the nation, find themselves unranked while Kentucky, who likely didn’t even come into consideration for the preseason top 25, enters the matchup ranked No. 23 in the D1 Baseball top 25.

Eight different Wildcats have hit homers in the 2023 season with redshirt senior Hunter Gilliam and redshirt sophomore Devin Burkes leading the charge with five and four respectively.

“They all just care about each other, they’re so selfless,” Mingione said about what makes the group special. “Mr. (Mitch) Barnhart made a point to share at the beginning of the year that every team (should) want to win for Kentucky and there would be no personal agendas. You do whatever you can to help Kentucky win, and that’s what they’re focused on.”

The team as a whole has scored a staggering 182 runs in 21 games (8.6 runs per game) with 135 RBIs including 33 from Gilliam, 27 from Burkes and 21 from sophomore Emilien Pitre.

With the road series in Tuscaloosa being the biggest test of the season for Kentucky, it’s safe to say fans have high hopes for the team. The only question remaining is whether or not it can deliver.

“We had two away weekends early in the season (for a reason),” Mingione said. “Obviously we don’t get to pick the SEC schedule, it’s just laid out for us, but our team has been able to stay focused and the way we do that it doesn’t matter if we’re at home or on the road or who the opponent is.”

Game one against Alabama is set to begin at 7 p.m. EST on Friday, March 24, from Sewell-Thomas Stadium and will air live on the SEC Network+.