Summer 2024

Coach Nick Mingione leads Kentucky to 1st College World Series: 'Only God can make this up'

After hitting a lead-off double in the top of the seventh inning Sunday night, Kentucky’s Nolan McCarthy took off for third base when he saw the ball get away from Oregon State’s catcher. As he neared third, McCarthy noticed that OSU’s pitcher wasn’t covering home plate. So he bolted for home, ignoring his third-base coach’s instructions to stop.

McCarthy’s head-first slide into home gave the Wildcats a 3-2 lead, which they held onto for the victory, thus capturing their first NCAA Super Regional victory. It booked Kentucky’s first-ever trip to the Men’s College World Series.

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“I saw it squeak by,” McCarthy said in the postgame press conference. “I was running to third. I immediately saw their pitcher wasn’t covering. I think I ran through a stop sign, but it ended up working out. No one was covering home, so might as well take what they’re going to give you.”

The stop sign he ran through was given by head coach Nick Mingione, who was coaching third but more than happy to see his junior centerfielder slide home safely.

“Nolan is the guy that wants to make the special play,” Mingione said in the press conference. “I was telling him to stop verbally, OK, not physically. But the game was in front of him, and I’m happy he went because he saw something. And we allow our players to make decisions on their own.”

The win continues an incredible season for Kentucky, which is the No. 2 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament, and now 45-14 on the season. That mark is tied for the most wins in school history, and the team will get a chance to add to it when the College World Series kicks off Friday in Omaha.

Leading Kentucky deeper into the NCAA Tournament than any coach before him had Mingione “filled with gratitude” Sunday night. He’s now in his eighth season leading the program (after never previously being a head coach at any level), and last month he collected his second Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year award; he won SEC and National Coach of the Year in 2017, after his first season in charge.

“This has been the best two weeks of my life,” Mingione said Sunday night. “Yep. I mean, I don’t know how you can make it better.”

He was alluding to the impressive run his team has been on, but also to a decision his young son, Reeves, recently made. With Reeves sitting to his right at the press conference Sunday, Mingione said that at a team gathering for the NCAA Tournament selection show, “This little dude stands up and he invites the team to his baptism [the following] Thursday. So then the whole team voluntarily — they didn’t have to come; I told them two different times, ‘Guys, don’t feel like you have to come’ — they show up.

“… I don’t know how you could have a better two weeks. As parents, for him to make the greatest decision he could ever make in his life, and then to give our fans and our players an experience they’ll never forget, [it’s incredible].”

Mingione also detailed in the press conference how 2022 was a really difficult time for him, but that’s when God taught him a valuable lesson. He said he was a “beat-down coach” from trying to do it all on his own, and he finally got to a point of surrender. In the press conference, he then played a song from his phone, Phil Wickham’s “Battle Belongs.”

“This song describes perfectly how God changed my life that night,” Mingione said.

“You can’t make this up. Only God can make this up,” Mingione continued. “People told me it would be impossible for Kentucky to make it to Omaha. I literally had people tell me that. And that day I surrendered, and this is what the Lord has done.”

He then turned to Reeves, who knows a Bible verse for every letter in the alphabet.

“I’m a proud father of that. Reeves, what’s your ‘J’ Bible verse?” Mingione asked.

“Jesus looked at them intently and said, ‘Humanly speaking it isn’t possible. But with God anything is possible,'” Reeves said, quoting Matthew 19:26.

Coach Mingione then continued, “God taught me a lesson: It’s not what you’re playing for; it’s Who you’re playing for. And I got done chasing this dream of Omaha, and I just said, ‘I’m done. I’m not chasing that anymore. Lord, I want to play for You.’ … So here we stand today. I give Him all the honor and glory, to God be the glory. Amazing. And I hope you appreciate my transparency because that was real.”

Mingione also shared about his faith in Christ on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in April 2019. He was asked about how he lives out his faith while also doing his job of coaching a baseball program.

“One thing I’ll never do is force it on anybody. I don’t ever do that,” he said. “I would just hope that — and this is one of my prayers — when they see me, they see the light of Christ. That would be my prayer; that was my prayer this morning in our coaches Bible study. But it’s just that they would see that and they would say, ‘Man, there’s something different about that guy. What is it?’ And ultimately, it would be the Lord. That would be the difference.”

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