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Kentucky baseball advances to first College World Series with 3-2 win vs. Oregon State

Kentucky baseball is headed to the College World Series for the first time in program history.

The No. 2 seed Wildcats finished a sweep of No. 15 seed Oregon State with a 3-2 win in front of a record 7,558 fans at Kentucky Proud Park in the wee hours of Monday morning. The game started at 9 p.m. Sunday and concluded at 12:33 a.m.

UK took a 1-0 lead in the second inning and never trailed. After a one-hit shutout of Oregon State in the series opener, the Wildcats held Oregon State to just two hits in the second game.

The win caps a remarkable season for Kentucky that began with the Wildcats picked to finish fifth in the SEC East by the league’s coaches and not ranked in any of the major preseason polls. UK had reached a super regional just twice before in program history (2017 and 2023) and had never won a game in the super-regional round before Saturday.

Here is what you need to know from the win.

KEY MOMENT

If any more proof was needed that this might be a team of destiny, Kentucky took the lead in the seventh inning by scoring from second base on a strikeout.

Center fielder Nolan McCarthy had led off the inning with his second double of the day that caromed off the corner of the wall in foul territory down the left field wall. That hit chased Oregon State starter Jacob Kmatz from the game after six stellar innings. Reliever Nelson Keljo got one out on a pop-up bunt attempt from right fielder James McCoy before striking out shortstop Grant Smith on a ball that bounced to the backstop.

Smith reached first base on the wild pitch and McCarthy advanced to third. When McCarthy realized Keljo had not covered home plate as Oregon State catcher Wilson Weber chased after the ball, he kept running and managed to score just before Keljo recovered to meet him at home plate.

ON THE MOUND

Starter Mason Moore looked dominant through three innings but ran into trouble in the fourth when he walked the first two batters. Oregon State then loaded the bases when Smith, UK’s normally stellar defensive shortstop, dropped a pop up in shallow center field. Moore struck out the next batter but walked two in a row to force in runs, ending his personal NCAA Tournament scoreless inning streak at 23⅔.

Right-handed reliever Cameron O’Brien continued his NCAA Tournament dominance by following Moore with back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam with the game still tied at two. The strikeouts left Oregon State star Travis Bazzana, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the 2024 MLB draft class according to MLB.com, in the on-deck circle.

O’Brien recorded seven more outs before leaving with one on and one out in the seventh. O’Brien has struck out 12 batters in 6 1/3 scoreless innings across three NCAA Tournament appearances so far.

Kentucky relief ace Robert Hogan escaped the seventh-inning jam by striking out Bazzana with men on first and third and one out then inducing a line out to shortstop. Hogan recorded the seven outs without surrendering a hit. He received some help from a diving stop from third baseman Mitchell Daly down the left field line for the second out of the ninth inning but was pulled with two outs after walking No. 9 hitter Mason Guerra to bring Bazzana to the plate.

Team captain Ryan Hagenow relieved Hogan but surrendered a single to Bazzana to put men on first and third with two outs. Saves leader Johnny Hummel, who did not pitch in UK’s regional after struggling down the stretch of the regular season, then came into the game and struck out center fielder Micah McDowell on three pitches to finish the win.

Kentucky infielder Mitchell Daly celebrates after hitting a double during the fourth inning against Oregon State at Kentucky Proud Park on Sunday night.
Kentucky infielder Mitchell Daly celebrates after hitting a double during the fourth inning against Oregon State at Kentucky Proud Park on Sunday night.

AT THE PLATE

On a night dominated by pitchers, McCarthy was the offensive star for Kentucky.

He drove home Ryan Nicholson from first base with his second-inning double, then drove in Kentucky’s second run with a squeeze bunt in the fourth inning. The only negative for McCarthy on the night was he had to leave the game with an apparent injury after scoring the go-ahead run on the wild pitch in the seventh inning.

Third baseman Mitchell Daly scored on the McCarthy squeeze bunt in the fourth inning after launching a one-out double to right-center field and moving to third base on a wild pitch.

WHAT’S NEXT

The College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, begins on June 14, though Kentucky is unlikely to start play until June 15. The College World Series bracket will be finalized Monday after a winner-take-all game between Georgia and N.C. State for the final spot in the eight-team field.

The eight teams are split into two separate four-team double-elimination brackets. The teams that emerge from those brackets then play in a best-of-three championship series.

Kentucky is matched up against the Georgia super regional winner for its first College World Series game. Florida and Texas A&M are also in Kentucky’s four-team pod with Tennessee, Florida State, Virginia and North Carolina on the other side of the bracket.

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