Kentucky baseball's Mitchell Daly walks off NC State at 2024 College World Series

OMAHA, Neb. — Before Mitchell Daly stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the 10th inning Saturday, Kentucky assistant coach Austin Cousino lent some advice about the adversary on the mound: N.C. State's Derrick Smith.

Smith's slider stays up in the zone at times.

Cousino's counsel on the forefront of his mind, Daly pounced on the fourth pitch he saw from Smith.

"I saw it up," Daly said, "and I just went for it."

Daly's efforts — and Cousino's words — weren't in vain, as the ball sailed over the left-field wall and into UK's bullpen, giving Kentucky a walk-off, 5-4 victory in 10 innings in the College World Series tussle at Charles Schwab Field.

"Just when you guys thought it couldn't get better," UK coach Nick Mingione said. "To God be the glory. What a game, what a game."

Daly's 10th-inning heroics came after the Wildcats blew a 3-1 lead. And after facing their first deficit (4-3) in six games since the NCAA Tournament started. And one inning after teammate Ryan Nicholson launched a solo home run to knot the game at 4.

"When Ryan hit that home run, I could barely hear myself even think," Mingione said. "It was awesome.

"Just proud of our team, their fight, their competitiveness, their desire to win."

The come-from-behind victory in extras kept the Wildcats’ six-game win streak intact. (UK hasn’t lost since May 24, when it fell to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament semifinals.) And ensured the result of Kentucky's first game at the College World Series wasn't a loss.

"It feels good to be the ground floor of what we're trying to produce for this program," Nicholson said. "This will be — this game is a really good starting point and a big confidence builder going forward. We didn't come here just to be happy that we're here. We came here to win games. And that's what we were trying to do today."

Kentucky (46-14) continues on in the winners bracket, with its next game set for 7 p.m. Monday, facing the winner of Saturday's nightcap between SEC foes Florida and Texas A&M.

N.C. State (38-22) will take the diamond at 2 p.m. Monday in an elimination game, squaring off with the Florida/Texas A&M loser. The season is over for the loser of Monday afternoon's matchup.

"I just told them, I said, playing in front of — what does this place hold? — playing in front of 25,000 people, I didn't see any nerves," said N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, relaying the postgame message he delivered to a disappointed club. "I didn't see any jitters. It was the first time you've played in front of that many people on this kind of stage, and I didn't see anything.

"But in case there were, they should relax, because you played — we played very well. ... (Today's loss) means we've got to win one more game: win on Monday."

Kentucky starting pitcher Trey Pooser posts uneven start

Jun 15, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Kentucky Wildcats starting pitcher Trey Pooser (51) walks off the field against the NC State Wolfpack after the fifth inning at Charles Schwab Filed Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Kentucky Wildcats starting pitcher Trey Pooser (51) walks off the field against the NC State Wolfpack after the fifth inning at Charles Schwab Filed Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Pooser has been as dependable as they come on the mound for the Wildcats this season. But Saturday was far from his best. Pooser's first four pitches Saturday were out of the strike zone, sending Eli Serrano III to first base, the bat never leaving his shoulder.

Pooser departed in the top of the seventh, leaving a runner on base for his replacement, Cameron O'Brien.

Pooser's final line: 6 ⅔ innings, nine hits, three runs (all earned) and three strikeouts.

The hit total was a season high. Only two times this season did he notch fewer strikeouts — and he had far less work in those appearances. He didn't record a strikeout in facing three batters against Georgia on March 17; he had one strikeout (in 12 batters) versus Washington State on Feb. 23. He stared down 31 members of the Wolfpack on Saturday.

Despite a start that didn't come close to rivaling other gems he's twirled in 2024, Pooser wasn't fazed.

"Obviously start off with a walk, you don't want that. You've got to shake your head, go to the next pitch and smile," he said. "We're not worried about what happened in the past; just focus on the present and do what we can to win."

Mingione wasn't troubled by Pooser's outing, either.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

He pointed to the third, fourth and fifth innings. The Wolfpack tallied at least one hit in each inning — two each in the third and fifth frames. But despite all that traffic on the bases, N.C. State managed only one run in that three-inning stretch.

"I thought maybe his best inning was the sixth," Mingione said. "He went 1, 2, 3 (up, three down). Had a 10-pitch inning.

"The guy has done that all year. That's what the great pitchers do."

Wildcats flip script on offensive identity — for one game, anyway

Jun 15, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Kentucky Wildcats center fielder Nolan McCarthy (19) celebrates hitting a home run against the NC State Wolfpack during the fourth inning at Charles Schwab Filed Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Kentucky Wildcats center fielder Nolan McCarthy (19) celebrates hitting a home run against the NC State Wolfpack during the fourth inning at Charles Schwab Filed Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Since Mingione's first season in 2017, UK has built its offensive brand on small ball. Stealing bases instead of hitting for power. Bunts galore.

All those maxims were upended Saturday.

UK stole only one base. It belted three homers. (Nolan McCarthy deposited a ball over the left-field wall in the fourth to go along with Nicholson and Daly's blasts in the final two frames.)

"I just want to make sure that everybody knows it's not all about bunting (with our offense)," Mingione said. "The 'whatever-it-takes' type of offense ... bunting is a small piece to it. But we can hit homers, too."

Still, UK never will rely too heavily on the long ball. That's why Mingione stuck to his guns, defending a decision that would have led to plenty of derision — and second-guessing — had the Wildcats lost.

One batter before Daly's game-winning homer, Devin Burkes was thrown out at second on an unsuccessful hit-and-run attempt.

"That was my call," Mingione said. "And we put it on just trying to create something and make something happen. ... When we are aggressive and we attack, there's times when you're going to get out.

"And easy coaching? Easy coaching is just sitting back and doing nothing. That's easy. Hard coaching is trying to create and put your players in the position to be successful."

Reach Kentucky men’s basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at rblack@gannett.com and follow him on X at @RyanABlack.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky baseball beats NC State in College World Series 2024

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