SEC title on the line for UK in final series of season at Florida

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky baseball coach Nick Mingione knows what’s on the line when the Wildcats take on Florida in a three-game series starting Thursday in Gainesville.

“From here on out, every game we play, someone is fighting for something,” Mingione said. “From here on out, there’s something on the line. Everyone is playing for something at this point. The vision is now a little bit clearer of what you need to do and the direction you need to go.”

The Wildcats (37-16, 18-9 Southeastern Conference) are one game behind leader Florida and tied with LSU for second in the standings going into the final weekend of the regular season. Kentucky will be looking for its second league title in school history, a big achievement under Mingione, who is in his first season at the helm.

“We’ve got five championships on the line right now,” Mingione said. “This weekend, we compete for an SEC championship. The following week, we compete for an SEC Tournament championship. The following week, a regional championship, the following week a Super Regional championship, and the following week, a national championship. There’s only a handful of teams who are trying to win all five championships. And they’re all still out there for us, and that’s fun.”

A three-game sweep of Tennessee last weekend put Kentucky in position to win the league title against Florida, one of the best teams in the conference. The Gators have compiled a 38-14 mark this season, including a 19-8 mark against conference foes.

“The sweep last weekend (over Tennessee) really helped with that,” Kentucky senior closer Logan Salow said. “It puts us in a position to go (to Gainesville) and get a ring.”

Kentucky second baseman Riley Mahan, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, credited his teammates for not looking ahead in last weekend’s sweep of the Volunteers.

“We took care of business, now we can get ready for Florida,” he said.

The Wildcats will depend on a solid pitching staff in the three-game series. Sean Hijelle (8-2, 3.28 ERA) will take the mound in the opener. Junior Zach Logue (6-4, 4.50 ERA) will start the second game Friday, followed by Sophomore Justin Lewis (6-2, 3.23 ERA) in the series finale set for Saturday.

Junior Evan White will lead the Kentucky offense against the Gators and leads the Wildcats in hitting with a .381 batting average. Tristan Pompey, a sophomore, leads Kentucky with 80 hits and is batting .379 on the year. White and Pompey have combined for eight home runs and Mahan leads the team with 13 home runs and 55 RBIs.

Despite the team’s success this season, Mingione knows the Wildcats “will have our hands full” but the Kentucky coach added “you don’t want it any other way.”

“Let’s have it this way,” he said. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. He can be reached by e-mail at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com.

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