The Kentucky Wildcats dogpile on the field after winning against the Oregon State Beavers at Kentucky Proud Park. [Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports]

College World Series: Kentucky Takes On NC State

No. 2 Kentucky faces No. 10 NC State in the first round of the College World Series at 2 p.m. ET Saturday.

Kentucky’s First College World Series Berth

Kentucky’s season has been nothing short of magical and sees them in their first ever College World Series. The Wildcats had a historic regular season, going 39-12. This was enough to capture the SEC regular season championship and included a school-record 22 wins in league play. They entered the SEC Tournament as the No. 2-ranked team in the country, but were the 3 seed in their conference tournament.

The SEC Tournament didn’t go the way Wildcats supporters hoped. Kentucky was shut out in embarrassing fashion 11-0 by LSU in the first game of the double-elimination tournament.

They bounced back against Arkansas, taking a 9-6 win, but then fell to South Carolina by one run to be eliminated. It certainly wasn’t a good sign to start the postseason for a team that had championship aspirations. However, the Wildcats were not deterred, as they swept through the Lexington Regional (Western Michigan, Illinois, Indiana State).

The team stayed in Lexington for the Super Regional, where they continued their hot streak, sweeping Oregon State. This marked a historic moment for the program, as they earned their first College World Series birth and a trip to Omaha.

Kentucky By the Numbers

Kentucky’s record and statistics tell two different stories. By record, the Wildcats are one of the best teams in the country. But looking at their numbers, it’s difficult to see how they got to this point.

The offense comes in scoring 8.0 runs per game, tied for 45th in the country. They bat .287 as a team (T-103rd), slug .496 (T-55th), and have a .405 OBP (50th). While these rankings are definitely not top tier, their top talent is. Ryan Waldschmidt is batting nearly .350 with a 1.107 OPS, while teammate Nick Lopez was able to reach the .350 mark. The team’s biggest power threat is Ryan Nicholson who has 21 home runs and a .675 slugging percentage coming into the weekend.

Kentucky’s pitching staff is also not what you would expect out of a top team in the nation. Their ERA comes in 52nd at 4.95, not a great number for a team that hopes to win it all. The team’s best starter coming in is Trey Pooser, who is 7-1 with a 3.46 ERA. Outside of him, the rest of the staff all have ERAs over 4.90.

However, UK has some solid talent out of the bullpen, led by Robert Hogan. However, the Wildcats’ arms have been what has gotten them to this point in the postseason, allowing just three runs in their past four games. If they hope to continue winning, this trend will have to as well.

NC State’s Road to Omaha

NC State is in the College World Series for the fourth time in program history. After a 32-19 regular season, the Wolfpack went into the ACC Tournament with high hopes. These only got higher after a 19-9 rout of Virginia Tech. However, the Duke Blue Devils ended these hopes, beating them 8-1.

The Wolfpack would go on to host the Raleigh Regional, where they swept through the competition. This would match them up against the dangerous Georgia Bulldogs and Charlie Condon. The first two games weren’t close, with each team taking huge victories. NC State won the first game 18-1, but were then crushed by Georgia, 11-2. This brought them to a deciding game 3 for the right to continue their season. The Wolfpack showed up in a big way, earning an 8-5 victory and a trip to Omaha.

NC State by the Numbers

NC State has won with their bats, though like Kentucky, they aren’t exactly top tier. Tied for 60th in the nation, the Wolfpack score 7.7 runs per game while batting .289 (T-92nd) with 99 homers (33rd). The team is led by Alec Makarewicz, whose .380 batting average and 22 home runs both rank in the top 50 in the nation. These make him an RBI machine, coming in tied for 7th with 80 runs batted in.

On the mound, NC State has struggled, with an ERA of 6.09, tied with Marshall for 153rd. Their best pitcher, Ryan Marohn, has a 3.97 ERA and allows a .302 batting average. Not great numbers for a team’s ace in the College World Series, but Marohn is a freshman with room to grow. No other starter has an ERA below five, and the relief is not much better, all coming in above 4.30. Nonetheless, the Wolfpack have made it this far, but their arms are going to have to be more consistent if they hope to make it much further.

Looking Forward

The Kentucky-NC State winner will play the winner of the Florida/Texas A&M matchup on Monday at 7 p.m. ET, while the losers of each will face off at 2 p.m. Monday in an elimination game.

About Sam Bennett

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