Cats head to Omaha with unfinished business

Published 4:36 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Kentucky stopped dreaming about Omaha moments after defeating Oregon State to earn its first-ever ticket to the College World Series early Monday morning.

A longtime goal for the Wildcats became a reality in the most storied season in school history. After completing a sweep in the best-of-three series against the Beavers, Kentucky tied a school record for most wins in a season (45-14) and won a Super Regional series for the first time in program history.

“This is something that Devin (Burkes) and I have been talking about since our freshman year,” Kentucky center fielder Nolan McCarthy said. “We were hitting down here more than anyone else. When they were on the road we were down here talking about Omaha in a couple years.

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“I think it was our freshman or sophomore year, we had to read a book called, “The Energy Bus,’” he said. “We started calling it the “Omaha Bus” because we were going to get to Omaha.”

McCarthy has been a regular follower of the College World Series since he was “10 to 15 years old in summer ball at a hotel somewhere” and has always wanted to play in the prestigious event.

“It’s just amazing, and it’s been my dream ever since then being able to have this opportunity,” he said. “It’s just awesome.”

As a testament to their loyalty to the program, McCarthy and Burkes worked their way up through the program. It took time to reach stardom.

“They didn’t make road trips,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “They just waited their turn. They just waited for their time. In a day and age where people just run and leave because they don’t get their playing time that they want, these guys waited their turn.

“They watched the bus leave week after week. They just stayed here. And all they did was make themselves better and believe in this program and do everything they can to help Kentucky.”

More than two weeks after going 1-2 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament after winning a share of the regular-season title, the Wildcats carry a five-game winning streak into the College World Series. Kentucky swept the Lexington Regional, followed by a sweep of three-time national champion Oregon State last weekend.

On back-to-back nights, Saturday and Sunday, respectively, the Wildcats shattered the attendance record at Kentucky Proud Park, providing the ultimate home-field advantage in their first Super Regional sweep.

“Big Blue Nation was unbelievable these last three weeks,” Mingione said. “Even dating back to the last regular season series of the year, just absolutely incredible. Our fans really showed out. This is my plea to get them to come to Omaha, create that same environment.

“Our players, they’re unbelievable. They have true grit, true toughness, unbelievable belief, real belief in one another and each other. And their true love for one another really showed. It really showed — not only this weekend but really all season long, just truly amazing.”

Now that Omaha, Nebraska is a destination, the Wildcats aren’t satisfied just making the eight-team field.

“It’s honestly surreal,” pitcher Robert Hogan said. “It’s probably the best thing that any of us could have asked for, being in this position. And so we’re going to go to Omaha and we’re going to do our thing because we ain’t done.”