A top-10 team and a 78-degree evening in late February combined to give Kentucky baseball a single-game, regular-season record crowd of 4,118 but not the win against Xavier on Tuesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The impressive fan showing came as second-year UK Coach Nick Mingione’s name has been floated for the now vacant Mississippi State job, a place where he spent eight years as an assistant, many of them under now-MSU Athletics Director John Cohen. Mingione also assisted for Cohen at UK.
“So proud of the Big Blue Nation. That was an amazing crowd from what we had in the grandstand to what we had in the outfield, that was awesome. When Christen and I decided to take this job, it’s exactly what we pictured, said Mingione, who earned Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year honors in his first year. “To think the last time we played a game here was in that regional final and then to come back and the next game we play it looks just like it.”
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UK announced it sold out of its reserved season tickets earlier this month. While fans gradually filled the grandstand for a game originally scheduled for Wednesday, the typically student-filled area outside the right-centerfield wall known as The Cliff filled quickly and soon overflowed deep into the parking lot.
“The guys at The Cliff look like they’re having a blast,” said Robert Ray of Georgetown. “It’s 70 degrees in February and a lot of it is carryover from last season’s excitement. Mingione’s such a positive guy and it’s so great listening to him. He’s bringing a lot of excitement to the program.”
The scene beyond the wall was raucous as fans tailgated and music blared.
“There’s a party going on out there in the outfield,” Mingione said, smiling. “I’m trying to get our outfield’s attention, and I’m sitting there going, ‘well, they can’t hear.’ I think they were playing Garth Brooks or something out there.”
As to the speculation about the Mississippi State position after the abrupt resignation of coach Andy Cannizaro on Tuesday, Mingione said it was only natural for his name to come up given his history with Cohen and Mississippi State.
“That’s the obvious. I mean, why wouldn’t they say my name,” Mingione said. “When you think what’s important to you … this place (Kentucky) checks off a lot of boxes. We’re growing spiritually, right? Obviously, it’s a place where my wife is comfortable and loves it. The education in Lexington is unbelievable. … This is a really neat place. I believe in our athletic director Mitch Barnhart and our president, Dr. Capiluto. This is a really neat deal and there’s a reason why the University of Kentucky is thriving.”
Xavier’s Joe Gellenbeck scored the winning run in the top of the 10th inning on a sacrifice fly after getting to third base with one out on his double and a UK fielding error.
The Cats (4-1) got a home run from designated hitter T.J. Collett to tie the game in the sixth inning, but UK squandered a golden opportunity to get the win in the ninth.
A leadoff hit by Alex Rodriguez and a bunt single by Trey Dawson put runners at first and second with no outs. Then, playing the averages, UK’s leading hitter, Tristan Pompey, who came into Tuesday batting .471, put down a sacrifice bunt to put both runners in scoring position.
But after a walk to Luke Becker, Xavier reliever Trey Schramm got Ben Aklinski and T.J. Collett to strike out to send the game to extra innings.
Allbry Miller pitched one and two-thirds innings for the win for Xavier (1-3). Jimmy Ramsey got the loss for UK despite getting five strikeouts.
UK got an RBI sacrifice fly from Ben Aklinski in the third inning after a shaky start by senior lefthander Brad Schaenzer, who gave up two runs in the first inning.
Oakland at Kentucky
When: 4 p.m. Friday