Daly’s homer lets Kentucky celebrate 5-4, 10-inning walk-off win in its College World Series debut


OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Seven of the eight teams in the College World Series have hit at least 100 home runs this season. And then there’s Kentucky.

Well, the Wildcats showed the long ball can be a big part of their offense, too.

Ryan Nicholson hit the tying home run in the ninth inning and Mitchell Daly connected for the game-winner in the bottom of the 10th, giving Kentucky a 5-4 victory over North Carolina State on Saturday in the third straight CWS game to end in walk-off fashion.

“Just when you guys thought it couldn’t get better,” Wildcats coach Nick Mingione told reporters. “What a game. What a game. Both teams. Just two teams duking it out and taking advantage of opportunities. Just so thankful for our players and our fans — in that ninth inning when Ryan hit that home run I could barely hear myself even thinking.”

Kentucky (46-14), in its first CWS, set a program record for wins in a season and will play Monday night against the winner of Saturday night’s Florida-Texas A&M matchup. NC State will play the Florida-Texas A&M loser in an elimination game in the afternoon.

“It feels good to be the ground floor of what we’re trying to produce for this program,” Nicholson said. “This game is a really good starting point and a big confidence builder going forward. We didn’t come here to be happy we’re here. We came here to win games.”

The Wolfpack (38-22) went to the bottom of the ninth with a one-run lead in its first game in Omaha since a COVID-19 outbreak on the team led the NCAA to removing them from the 2021 CWS after their third game.

But Nicholson sliced Jacob Dudan’s 96-mph fast ball just inside the left-field foul pole, and barely over the fence, for his 22nd home run to tie it 4-all.

The Wildcats got a runner to third after that but couldn’t push him across. After Johnny Hummel (4-0) pitched a 1-2-3 top of the 10th, the stage was set for Daly.

The Texas transfer was down 1-2 against closer Derrick Smith (3-2) when he turned on a pitch and lofted it high down the line and over the fence, the ball staying fair despite a wind gusting to 25 mph pushing it left. With Kentucky’s “Big Blue Nation” celebrating in the stands, Daly finished his trip around the bases to a throng of teammates jumping up and down and waiting to give him a group hug at home plate.

“Kentucky, BBN, the energy around this place is special,” Daly said. “To give the fans an ending like that is pretty awesome.”

Kentucky has one of the most versatile offenses in the country. The Wildcats have a penchant for stealing bases, using the bunt and hit-and-runs to move runners along and finding gaps for extra-base hits.

They arrived in Omaha with 84 home runs, fewest among CWS teams by a substantial margin and less than half of Tennessee’s nation-leading total of 175.

“That’s why I started calling our offense a ‘whatever-it-takes type of offense,’” Mingione said. “Our guys are so talented. When we get production up and down the lineup, that’s us at our best, and we can do it in all different ways. You know what, there is a lot of coaching that goes into that, but you have to have players able to execute.”

NC State coach Elliott Avent said he had no qualms with how his team played. The Wolfpack got a solid seven-inning start from Sam Highfill and the offense collected 10 hits. They did leave 12 runners on base.

“Played under control and had good at-bats,” Avent said. “But everything has to be really, really good. You don’t have any margin of error when you get to this final format.”

North Carolina and Tennessee won their CWS openers on Friday on bottom-of-the-ninth singles, making this the first time in the 74-year history of the event that three straight games had ended in walk-off fashion. It also was the second time the first three games in the CWS were decided by one run; last year was the first time.


AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports

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