LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I did not expect Kentucky baseball coach Nick Mingione to pick a winner of the College World Series that begins Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sports writers can pick winners. Television analysts can do that. Fans can do that. You can do that. I can do that (and excel at looking silly).

Coaches cannot do that. There’s no benefit in picking one program and annoying fans of the other seven teams.

But I had to ask Mingione, considering his first UK team played half the World Series field (Louisville, Texas A&M, Louisiana State and Florida).

“It’s baseball,” Mingione said. “The College World Series has always been a tremendous event because anything can truly happen. You have to pitch and you have to catch the baseball. Wide open.”

Mingione was impressed by Dan McDonnell’s U of L team, the one that swept the Wildcats in two games during the Super Regional last weekend. (Hat tip to Mingione, who earned the Perfect Game/Rawlings National coach of the year award Tuesday).

He likes U of L’s power, especially when infielder Drew Ellis swings the bat with the thunder he showed while delivering three home runs last weekend. He likes the polish and poise of Brendan McKay, the Cards’ two-way star who was taken fourth in the MLB Free Agent Draft by Tampa Monday

But, like McDonnell, Mingione says does not be deceived by records. Texas A&M, the Cards’ opening opponent Sunday, is a team that features solid starting pitching and some of the finest freshmen in the country.

Mingione said that Brigham Hill, the right-handed pitcher the Aggies are likely to start against Louisville on Sunday, pounds the strike zone as relentlessly as any pitcher UK faced all season.

In. Out. Up. Down. Hard. Soft. Hard. Harder. Hill struck out 107 hitters in 96.1 innings this season, walking only 29.

“Everybody in Omaha will have good pitching,” Mingione said. “But Hill matches up with anybody. His ability to consistently throw strikes is impressive.”

The Washington Nationals agree. They selected Hill in the fifth round of the MLB Draft on Tuesday.

Truth be told, the Aggies had another arm – right-hander Corbin Martin – taken in the second round, 107 picks ahead of Hill. A third A&M pitcher, Cason Sherrod, went to Kansas City in Round 13 on Wednesday.

So the Aggies can pitch, even though Kentucky started Southeastern Conference play by sweeping A&M in College Station, scoring 24 runs in three games. A&M finished the season 41-21 overall but 16-14 in the SEC, the league’s sixth-best record.

The Aggies offense is headlined by a freshman – a player named one of the four best freshmen in America by Collegiate Baseball newspaper.

That is second baseman Braden Shewmake, who led the Aggies in home runs (11), doubles (17), RBIs (68) and stolen bases (11). 

“Very impressive young player,” Mingione said. “He can do it all.”

Coaches in the SEC agreed. They voted him the league’s best freshman. Two other Aggies – first baseman Hunter Coleman and outfielder Logan Foster – made the SEC all-freshman team.

Tucked on the same side of Louisville’s four-team pod is another team that Mingione knows well – the Florida Gators.

Louisville travels to Omaha on Thursday. The Cardinals are ranked fifth in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), fourth best in the field. The Aggies are No. 30, the worst ranking of the eight teams in Omaha.

The highest ranked team on Louisville’s side of the bracket is Florida. The Gators are second, one spot behind Oregon State, two ahead of Louisiana State. Three Florida pitchers were voted second-team all-SEC, headlined by ace Alex Faedo, who was drafted in the first round by Detroit on Monday.

“Florida catches the baseball as well as any team in the country,” Mingione said. “Their defense is tremendous, and they also pitch it very well. Florida is an outstanding baseball team. So is LSU.

“It should be a tremendous tournament.”

The College World Series always is.

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