Louisville’s home winning streak of 36 straight regular-season games, and 50 victories in the last 51, sums up the challenge Kentucky’s baseball team faces Tuesday evening.
UK shortstop Connor Heady acknowledged Monday that U of L, which is ranked No. 2 in the country, is good.
“We’re a really good program, too,” added Heady, a senior out of North Oldham. “And we like the way we’re playing right now. And we like our chances going in there and getting a win.”
Kentucky (21-8) is ranked No. 8 in the D-1 Baseball national poll. Winners of 19 of their last 22 games, the Wildcats have played competitively at Louisville the last two seasons, losing twice in walk-off fashion.
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“It’s definitely a motivator,” Heady said of how close UK came to tripling Louisville’s number of recent home losses. “We definitely have a chip on our shoulder.”
When asked why there was a metaphorical chip on the shoulder of UK’s baseball team, Heady said, “We made it a goal, we made it a mission to be the best team in the state. And we really just want to win the state.”
Louisville, 24-3 (and 17-0 at home), has won the last five games in the series.
The Cats are no strangers to ranked opponents this year. Kentucky’s 10-5 record against ranked teams includes victories in 10 of the last 12 such games. The Wildcats won series against ranked opponents the last three weekends (Texas A&M, Mississippi and Vanderbilt).
First-year coach Nick Mingione said he scheduled a series at North Carolina to begin the season in hopes of preparing his players for challenging road games. The Tar Heels were ranked just outside the top 10 at the time and now are No. 5.
“More than likely, in order to win this league, you’re going to have to win games on the road,” Mingione said.
The Kentucky coach saw significance in his players’ reaction to a loss to Vanderbilt on Sunday. The Wildcats had already clinched the series by winning the first two games.
“We talked about that after the game,” Mingione said. “That should hurt. That’s not good enough if you want to do something that hasn’t been done here before. Even though you won the series, you want to win every game. They believe that.
“You’ve got to sweep them. The fact that they feel (disappointed), and it’s not just the coaches saying it, really shows this team is moving in the right direction.”
Mingione said he was not sure if he’d mention Louisville’s 50-1 regular-season home record to his players. He said he’d rather they continue to concentrate on their level of play rather than let the opposition cloud that vision inward.
“This group is so focused,” he said. “It’s a group of workers. Will they be excited? Yes. That it’s Louisville, and all that. But I think we’ll do a really good job explaining to them that it doesn’t matter who we play. And they know that. That we want to accomplish our game goals, and our game plan works.”
Kentucky at Louisville