For all the success the Kentucky baseball team had in Nick Mingione’s first season last spring, there’s one thing the Wildcats never did.
They never got to celebrate a walk-off victory.
During the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game at Cliff Hagan Stadium, the Cats trailed Western Kentucky 3-0 and Mingione turned to assistant coach Todd Guilliams. “I want a walk-off for these guys so bad,” the UK coach told him.
Two innings after that, the Cats still trailed 3-0, they didn’t have much going at the plate, and this certainly didn’t look like it was going to be the night. A few improbable minutes later, UK pinch-runner Cam Hill stepped on home plate to give the Cats a 4-3 victory.
It was an eventful ninth inning, to say the least.
After Kole Cottam struck out to lead things off, UK right-fielder Ryan Johnson launched a solo shot to the parking lot in right field that finally got the Cats on the scoreboard.
Luke Heyer followed that up by legging out an infield single to the left side, and — after Ryan Shinn flied out to center — No. 9 hitter Trey Dawson blasted a double to left-center field to put runners on second and third.
That brought Troy Squires to the plate, and that’s when things really heated up.
Down 0-1 in the count, Squires swung and missed at a ball that got past WKU catcher Colin Butkiewicz and went to the backstop. Heyer scored on the play, but the home plate umpire ultimately ruled that Squires made contact with Butkiewicz’s mitt on his backswing and made Heyer go back to third.
Mingione was not pleased.
The UK coach came out of the dugout and spent several minutes arguing with the ump, waving his arms around, miming Squires’ backswing to prove his point, and arguing some more. “I will just say that he and I had a disagreement, and we saw it differently,” Mingione said. “I wanted the run. I really wanted the run.”
While his coach fumed, Squires walked away to collect himself.
“He was doing that on purpose,” he said with a grin. “He was giving me time to get my thoughts together. That’s what he was doing.”
Squires fouled off the first 0-2 pitch and then sent a screamer right back at WKU pitcher Ben Morrison and into center field, scoring two runs and tying it up at 3. UK’s Ben Aklinski then reached first — and sent Squires to second — with a ground ball that was bobbled by the WKU third baseman.
With Luke Becker up and Hill in to run for Squires — and representing the winning run at second base — the Toppers brought on Ryan Thurston, whose first offering was a wild pitch that sent Hill to third. The very next pitch got past Butkiewicz for a passed ball, and Hill scored as his teammates poured out of the dugout.
Mingione had his walk-off win.
“They need to know,” he said. “You have to be able to experience it, because we’re going to be in that situation again. We’re going to be down going into the ninth, and we’re going to have to do something to get us a win. And the fact that we’ve been there and done it is good.
“They need to know that we can come back from anything.”
Kentucky vs. Houston
What: Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic
Where: Houston, Texas
When: 4:30 p.m. Friday