One down, two to go.
In need of a three-game win streak to reach next weekend’s Super Regional, Kentucky took care of the first step, pounding out 18 hits to knock off Indiana 14-9 and earn a spot against North Carolina State in Sunday’s 7 p.m. regional final.
Nick Mingione’s club needs a victory over the Wolfpack to force a winner-take-all game Monday at Cliff Hagan Stadium. North Carolina State beat the Cats 6-4 on Saturday night, dropping Kentucky into the loser’s bracket final.
Three takeaways from the win over Indiana:
1. Zack Thompson delivered an un-freshman like performance
The left-handed starter gave up a home run to Indiana’s Tony Butler on the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning. It marked the second straight game that UK had allowed a home run to the opponent’s first batter. But Thompson, making his first NCAA Tournament start, quickly recovered.
“I just had to flush it and stick to my plan,” he said.
He did just that, recording four strike outs in the first two innings and five int he first three. The Selma, Indiana native went a career-high seven innings, allowing four runs and six hits. He walked just one to go with seven strike outs.
He obviously ran out of gas in the seventh when Indiana scored three runs. Still, he threw 110 pitches, saving several UK arms for Sunday night’s game with N.C. State.
2. Riley Mahan remains red, red, red-hot
The junior second baseman broke the game wide open in the sixth inning with a grand slam homer over the right field fence. That took a 6-1 Kentucky lead to a 10-1 Kentucky lead. As it turned out, the Cats needed every one of those 10 runs.
In three NCAA Regional games here, Mahan is eight-of-13 with one homer and nine RBI. He’s hitting .615. He’s six-for-seven with runners in scoring position, plus a sacrifice fly.
He did it in the field, too. After his grand slam in the top of the sixth, Mahan went behind second base to field a ground ball and throw out Indiana’s Craig Dedelow at first base.
3. Now the rematch with North Carolina State
As the No. 1 seed, surely the Cats thought they should have beaten the No. 3 seed Wolfpack and had every opportunity to win Saturday night when they dropped that 6-4 decision to the Wolfpack.
Kentucky left 10 runners on base in the defeat. UK had the bases loaded with one out on two different occasions in the first three innings and managed a combined one run. They turned that around against Indiana, producing key hits with runners on base.
Plus, the game’s biggest play Saturday night saw charging center fielder Marcus Carson miss Evan Mendoza’s liner. It would have been a tough catch for Carson, but one that Mingione said afterward he’s seen Carson make many times.
Who will go to the mound Sunday night for the Cats? In his press conference after the Indiana win, Mingione wouldn’t give a name, but said, “it’s probably going to take a couple of guys.”
For Kentucky, it’s going to take a couple of wins to reach the Super Regional.