LEXINGTON, Ky. — Yes, No. 16 Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt in a series for the first time since 2009. Yes, the Wildcats have won their first three Southeastern Conference series under Nick Mingione.
But Kentucky had an opportunity to sweep the Commodores for the first time since 2000 on Sunday and fell short, losing 6-4 in a close game at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Second baseman Riley Mahan, who hit two home runs and drove in all four RBI for Kentucky on Sunday, said despite picking up momentum this weekend, the club was upset with the loss.
“The one thing that’s special about this team is I think a lot of guys are frustrated that we didn’t win today,” Mahan said. “Just winning a series isn’t good enough for us. We want to sweep teams and we want to be on top of the league."
Winning a series over a top 25 team in the past would’ve been cause for celebration in recent years for the Kentucky baseball program. The Wildcats have already done that three times this season.
“The past two years, just winning a series or if we’re playing a top 10 team, just taking one game was enough for us,” Mahan said. “This time around we want all three games and we’re not going to rest until we have them.”
Mahan’s comments serve as further proof of the change taking place within the Kentucky baseball program. With the majority of the current team playing at least two seasons with the Wildcats prior to this season, the change could directly reflect the culture Mingione is trying to establish. However, Mingione doesn’t know if that’s the case.
“I don’t know if our coaching staff gets credit for that,” Mingione said. “But what I wanted to remind them is if we’re trying to do something that only one team has ever done before and then maybe do some things that have never been done before, every loss has to hurt. You can’t be satisfied with just winning two out of three. When you get a chance to win three, you have to win three. If you’re truly trying to be toward the top of the league and you’re trying to be the best, that has to be your mindset. I love the fact that it hurt them. With great teams, every loss hurts.”
Mahan did his part in helping Kentucky stay in the game Sunday. He doubled down the right field line to tie the game in the bottom of the first inning. His first home run of the day put Kentucky ahead 2-1 in the fourth inning.
After Vanderbilt scored three runs in the top of the seventh, Mahan drilled his second home run to cut the game to one run. He had a chance for more heroics in the ninth inning as he came up as the tying run with two outs, but popped out in the infield to end the game. Still, Mingione was proud of how Mahan has played this season.
“He is so coachable,” Mingione said. “What you saw today, he has the ability to drive the ball out of the park at any point in time. Really proud of the way he defended the field, the way he obviously came up with big hits. They scored three and we answered back with a two spot. That’s one of the strengths of our team; we won’t stop competing. If our opponents do something we’re going to answer right back. I thought he had a big swing and gave us the chance to do that.”