The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

(Baseball) Behind Enemy Bylines: Kentucky Wildcats

Prior to the VandyBoys’ three-game series against the No. 15 Kentucky, The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines with Parker Scott from the Kentucky Kernel.
Lindsey Jorda
The Vanderbilt dugout celebrates as a run scores, as photographed on April 16, 2023 (Hustler Multimedia/Lindsey Jorda).

Having lost four games in a row, the No. 5 VandyBoys will welcome the No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats to Hawkins Field this weekend in search of a bounce-back performance. 

Vanderbilt remains in a strong position to win the SEC East, trailing South Carolina by just half of a game in the standings. Winning this series could go a long way towards improving the team’s chances at a first-place finish. Given that the Commodores haven’t lost a series to Kentucky in six years, they are in a prime position to do so. That being said, this year’s group of Wildcats is one of the best head coach Nick Mingione has put together in recent memory. Their 30-10 record, including an 11-7 record in conference play, is representative of a team that is capable of taking down any opponent on any given day.

The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Parker Scott, a sports reporter for the Kentucky Kernel, to preview this weekend’s matchup. 

The Hustler: Kentucky went from being among the SEC’s worst teams in 2022 to being highly-ranked and firmly in the race for the SEC East crown this season. What do you think have been the primary factors behind the team’s resurgence in 2023? 

Parker Scott: The main thing I have noticed about Kentucky baseball this year is that there’s not one player that is carrying the team, but everyone is working together to produce a good output. The core group of players are all well rounded and can come up strong in many different situations. 

I also think a huge factor is the exceptional job done in the transfer portal during the off-season. Coach Mingione mentioned a couple weeks ago that they picked up Jackson Gray from Western Kentucky despite how much he struggled last year, and he earned the role of starting center fielder and has become a pivotal piece in the offensive lineup. A number of other prominent players like 1B Hunter Gilliam, UTL Ryan Waldschmidt, RHP Ryder Giles, RHP Zach Hise, C Chase Stanke, and SS Grant Smith came from the portal as well. 

While it is true that Kentucky was at the bottom of the SEC last season, the SEC is a very strong conference as most people know, so a higher level of talent is needed to compete at that kind of level. It is very clear to me that the additions from the portal have made a huge difference in how much better Kentucky has done in conference play this year.

It seems like Nick Mingione has adapted a pitching-by-committee approach over the past few weeks, pulling his starters relatively early and using a slew of relievers to make it through games. What should Vanderbilt expect from the Wildcat pitching staff this weekend?

Mingione has used a heavy amount of relievers throughout the whole season, although the group of starting pitchers has done well. Most of the starting pitchers stay relatively consistent for a few innings, and Mingione seems to pull them before anything rough can happen, which is a good approach. But the efficiency of the pitching staff will likely depend on how well the relievers perform and if they are able to prevent too many runs in close game situations.

The offense has been able to produce at a high level despite hitting just 27 home runs. What has been the key to scoring runs given the lack of power throughout the lineup?

Lesser value plays like singles, doubles, and even walks have been adding up in each inning, leaving hitters with many chances to get RBIs. It’s really not much more than that. The players have a strong desire to back up their team and get runs in whatever way they can, leading them to want to get clutch hits in key situations.

Speaking of the lineup, which of Kentucky’s batters do you think will give Carter Holton, Devin Futrell, and the rest of the Vanderbilt pitching staff trouble this weekend?

Hunter Gilliam is definitely the most powerful batter in Kentucky’s lineup, leading the team in both home runs, base hits, and RBIs. Jackson Gray, who is usually the leadoff hitter, has a fairly easy time getting on base and also has 14 steals. Mingione has mentioned how the bottom of the order has been improving in production, and Nolan McCarthy has been the main player contributing to that effort. He does an amazing job driving in runs in situations that look tough. Although those three are among the most notable, every player in the lineup is capable of getting on base and driving in runs when needed, which is one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success.

Having lost their series last weekend to Texas A&M and their midweek matchup with Louisville, how do you think the Wildcats will respond to the adversity they have faced this weekend? 

I wouldn’t say Kentucky is in a slump following the Texas A&M series and the scoreless performance against Louisville. The Cats were facing good teams and hitting good balls, just not as many of those balls turned into base hits. Kentucky’s relievers haven’t been the most consistent as well, especially in the Louisville game, so it’s possible that pitchers will change more frequently later in games and the selection of pitchers will be more based on control. 

What is your prediction for the series?

I think Vanderbilt will likely win the series and could sweep if Kentucky can’t get going. Despite Kentucky’s success this year, they aren’t quite at the level of being able to consistently defeat top-tier teams, especially on the road. Being back at home after the disastrous series against Tennessee should be a big motivator for the Commodores this weekend.

Game one of the series against Kentucky will be on Friday, April 28 at 6 p.m. CDT.

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About the Contributors
Luke Rollfinke
Luke Rollfinke, Senior Staff Writer
Luke Rollfinke ('25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in mathematics with a minor in communications. Luke loves all things sports, so when he's not writing for The Hustler, he's probably either playing for a club or intramural Vanderbilt sports team. You can reach him at [email protected].
Lindsey Jorda
Lindsey Jorda, Former Social Media Director
Lindsey Jorda (‘23) is double majoring in neuroscience and psychology in the College of Arts and Science. When not working for The Hustler, she loves reading, listening to music, watching movies and playing with her dog. She can be reached at [email protected].
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