Welcome to the 2022 SEC Baseball Tournament Blog, your online home for the big news, behind-the-scenes notes and quotes and special moments that make this annual event at the Hoover (Ala.) Met the best college baseball tournament in the nation. Check back for updates each day throughout the week.
Oraj Anu knew it.
"I knew it was gone once I made contact," he said. "It felt really good off the bat. It felt really good."
When Kentucky's 6-foot-1, 240-pound designated hitter made contact with a 2-2 changeup leading off the ninth inning of a 1-1 game against No. 5 seed Auburn, he didn't just launch the ball 428 feet over the center-field fence. He lifted his team toward a 3-1 win to continue an inspiring surge for him and the Wildcats.
Kentucky became the first No. 12 seed to win an SEC Tournament game since the field expanded in 2013. Anu has to be on the short list of players who've suffered a broken hamate bone in his hand and had surgery in March, returned in April and sparked his team to a historic victory in May.
"I've seen guys not come back (from that injury)," Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. "We missed him, and it showed offensively. He's a special player."
It's no coincidence that Anu's return has coincided with Kentucky's late-season push to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. With its first win in Hoover since 2017, UK advanced to the double-elimination portion of the tournament, which is gold for a team in search of more quality wins. The Wildcats now have five victories over teams ranked in the top 8 of the RPI in their last 12 games, with two against No. 1 Tennessee and three against Auburn, which began Wednesday at No. 8.
Next up: An opportunity against LSU and more big swings for Anu.
"This is a guy, this is his last year of college baseball, so this is it for him," Mingione said. "He and a bunch of our other guys, they just want to keep playing. ... Oraj will grow from that experience, and hopefully he's got a lot more at-bats for Kentucky this year."