Seeds are locked and regionals are set: the postseason is set to return to 3rd and Central this weekend. Following a poor showing in Durham, NC at the hands of Boston College & Clemson in the ACC Baseball Championship, the #7 Louisville Cardinals (43-15, 21-9) are ready to put that behind them and get back to playing the brand of baseball that got them a hosting bid.

A potential knee jerk reaction to Louisville’s 0-2 showing in Durham might be that the Cards “choked down the stretch” or anything else that resonates that sentiment. However if anything, it was more a case of Clemson & BC’s starting pitchers having great performances more so than Louisville having bad performances. Dan Metzdorf of BC threw his first career complete game as a senior and Mat Clark of Clemson carried a perfect game into the 8th inning. Hitting-wise that has not been Louisville’s M.O. all season, and head coach Dan McDonnell is not concerned with the lack of hitting at the ACCBC, saying “What happened last week has no bearing on who can play well in the regionals, super regionals and ultimately trying to win a national championship” at the press conference following the 2019 selection show. He cited Florida State as a prime example, who won the 2018 ACC Baseball Championship yet went 0-2 in their home regional.

It’s not hard to have his confidence, as his regionals home record speaks for itself. McDonnell is 20-3 overall when hosting the regionals round, including 6-2 against the #2 seed, 7-1 against the #3 seed and 7-0 against the #4 seed. His two losses against the #2 seed both came in 2010, and the 1 loss against a #3 seed was in game 1 of 2 of the regional final, which UofL inevitably won. Even crazier? All 3 losses were at the hands of the Vanderbilt Commodores, who the Cards would not be lined up to meet until game 1 of the College World Series. The players seem to share his confidence too, with sophomore OF/2B Lucas Dunn simply stating “we’re ready to roll.” With a good week of practice behind them and plenty of time to get healthy heading into the first weekend of the tournament, Louisville is setting themselves up nicely for a deep postseason run.

As it says on the façade of Jim Patterson Stadium: “The Road to Omaha Goes Through Louisville”

News & Notes

  • Louisville’s national seed in the 2019 tournament is their fifth in program history (2010, 2015, 2016, 2017).
  • In his 13 year tenure as the head coach at Louisville, Dan McDonnell has made the NCAA Tournament 12 times, with 2011 being the only year being exempt.
  • Coach Mac has hosted the regionals round in 8 of his 12 trips to the tournament including 2019. In his previous 7 times hosting the opening round of the tournament, he has failed to advance to the Super Regionals only once (2010).
  • Including regionals not hosted in Louisville, Coach Mac boats an overall regionals record of 28-10.
  • Nationally, the Cards are 16th in doubles (122), 23nd in stolen bases (97) and 29th in fielding percentage (.978).
  • Sophomore left-hander Reid Detmers is 4th in the nation in strikeouts (145), 9th in WHIP (0.88), 11th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.59) and 17th in hits allowed per nine innings (5.79). He is just 1 strikeout short of the UofL single season strikeout record of 146 (Brendan McKay – 2017)
  • Junior first basemen Logan Wyatt ranks 3rd in the nation in walks (64), 21st in runs (65) and 53rd in on base percentage (.471). He is just 5 walks short of the UofL single season walk record of 69 (Kevin Malone – 1980).
  • Junior shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald ranks 38th in the nation in sacrifice flies (6) and 43rd in RBI (60).
  • Freshman third baseman Alex Binelas ranks 27th in the nation in slugging percentage (.679) and 68th in triples (4).

The Week Ahead

Coming up this week, postseason play will officially begin for the Louisville Cardinals in the Louisville Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Aside from Louisville, featured in the regional is the #2 seeded Indiana Hoosiers (36-21), the #3 seeded Illinois State Redbirds (34-24) and the #4 seeded Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Flames (29-21).

The Cards have never played Illinois-Chiacgo, but are a combined 27-32 against both Illinois State (4-5) and Indiana (23-28). Louisville came away with a series win the last time they played Illinois State in March of 2007, and the Cards defeated Indiana earlier this season 8-7 in 12 innings in Bloomington.

Louisville Regional Schedule:

  • Friday, May 31st
    • Game 1: Indiana vs. Illinois State – 2 p.m.
    • Game 2: Louisville vs. UIC – 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 1st
    • Game 3: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser – 11 a.m.
    • Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner – 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, June 2nd
    • Game 5: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Loser – Noon
    • Game 6: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner – 6 p.m.
  • Monday, June 3rd (If necessary)
    • Game 7: Game 6 Loser vs. Game 6 Winner – 1 p.m.

All-Session Tickets can be purchased here. Reserved Chairback is $70 while Berm/General Admission seating will be $55. Single-session tickets will go on sale starting this Thursday at 10am through GoCards.com or the Louisville Cardinals Ticket Office attached to Cardinal Stadium, with tickets being available at Jim Patterson Stadium starting Friday at noon. Reserved Chairback will be $15, Berm/General Admission will be $10, and College Students will be able to get in for $5. In case you cannot make it to any of the games, the entire Louisville Regional will be televised on ESPN3, and Louisville’s games will be broadcast on 93.9 The Ville.

Know The Foe

#2 seed

School: Indiana University – Bloomington
Nickname: Indiana Hoosiers
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
Total Enrollment: 43,710
Head Coach (school record): Jeff Mercer (36-21)
2019 Record (conference record): 36-21 (17-7)
Team Leaders:

  • Avg: Elijah Dunham (.305)
  • RBI: Matt Lloyd (54)
  • HR: Matt Lloyd & Cole Barr (16)
  • ERA: Matt Lloyd (1.80)
  • Strikeouts:Pauly Milto (97)
  • Wins: Pauly Milto & Andrew Saalfrank (8)

#3 seed

School: Illinois State University
Nickname: Illinois State Redbirds
Location: Normal, Illinois
Total Enrollment: 20,784
Head Coach (school record): Steve Holm (34-24)
2019 Record (conference record): 34-24 (14-7)
Team Leaders:

  • Avg: Joe Aeilts (.350)
  • RBI:John Rave (48)
  • HR: John Rave (12)
  • ERA: Jacob Gilmore (3.46)
  • Strikeouts: Brent Headrick (101)
  • Wins:Brent Headrick (9)

#4 seed

School: University of Illinois – Chicago
Nickname: UIC Flames
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Total Enrollment: 30,559
Head Coach (school record): Mike Dee (630-492-2)
2019 Record (conference record): 29-21 (18-11)
Team Leaders:

  • Avg: Ryan Hampe (.369)
  • RBI: Scott Ota (62)
  • HR: Scott Ota (19)
  • ERA: Alex Padilla (0.90)
  • Strikeouts: Jacob Key (87)
  • Wins: Jacob Key (7)

Opponent Breakdown

Indiana Illinois State UIC Louisville
RPI 36 26 189 9
SOS 60 36 254 31
Home Record 21-5 13-5 18-6 27-7
Away Record 11-12 19-17 7-15 15-4
Batting
Base on Balls 73 (260) 142 (233) 227 (198) 20 (299)
Batting Average 220 (.254) 28 (.295) 109 (.274) 37 (.292)
Hits 142 (497) 14 (606) 212 (457) 20 (594)
Home Runs 2 (90) 78 (50) 145 (38) 88 (48)
On Base Percentage 176 (.357) 83 (.375) 112 (.369) 32 (.391)
Runs 36 (395) 56 (374) 167 (306) 12 (443)
Slugging Percentage 30 (.455) 55 (.438) 107 (.411) 52 (.440)
Pitching
Earned Run Average 22 (3.63) 149 (4.93) 26 (3.68) 28 (3.70)
Hits Allowed/9 Inn. 29 (7.87) 123 (9.04) 71 (8.57) 4 (7.20)
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings 24 (9.5) 127 (8.2) 283 (6.3) 7 (10.4)
Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio 10 (2.97) 92 (2.08) 147 (1.89) 16 (2.74)
WHIP 12 (1.23) 102 (1.44) 39 (1.32) 10 (1.22)
Walks Allowed/9 Inn. 18 (3.21) 94 (3.93) 30 (3.32) 81 (3.79)
Key: Rank out of 297 (Value)

Indiana Hoosiers

One of two first year head coaches in the Louisville Regional, IU skipper Jeff Mercer might be a greenhorn for the Hoosiers but he is a solid baseball mind and established recruiter. Prior to Indiana, he served as Wright State’s head coach for two years, compiling a record of 77-38 as well as a regional appearance in 2018. IU might have had an early exit from the Big Ten Baseball Tournament similar to Louisville’s early exit from the ACC Baseball Championship, but the Hoosiers are still one of the premier teams in the Big Ten. Out of their 8 three-game conference series matchups, they only dropped one series, losing to a solid Illinois team who is also in the NCAA Tournament.

The Hoosiers’ approach at the plate has not deviated much from the last time they faced the Cards just two weeks ago. They are still a slugging powerhouse at the expense of a little bit of batting average. Arizona State is the only team in the nation who has more home runs than the Indiana, with the Hoosiers falling just two long balls short of the Sun Devils’ 92. Five players on IU’s roster are slugging over .500, with three of them also launching double digit homers. Senior DH Matt Lloyd, sophomore infielder Cole Barr & junior outfielder Matt Gorski are the lifeblood of the Hoosiers’ power-hitting prowess, as the trio leads the team in total bases, home runs and RBI. Sophomores Drew Ashley & Elijah Dunham are decent counterbalances to the latter 3, as Ashley & Dunham have the two highest on base percentages on the team and 2 of the top 3 batting averages. However much like the first time Louisville faced IU, the Hoosiers are still extremely prone to the strikeout. They led the Big ten in strikeouts with 611 and the Louisville pitching staff had their most since 2000, tossing a whopping 23 strikeouts in a midweek game against them. One can only imagine how many Reid Detmers, Nick Bennett or Bobby Miller could throw against them. On top of the fact that IU is only 11-12 on the road, if the pitching staff can limit the amount of extra base hits and home runs by the Hoosiers, the pitching staff should be in decent shape against them.

Unlike their one-dimensional offense, the Indiana pitching staff on the other hand is very well rounded. They feature a team ERA of 3.63, and every starting pitcher in their rotation has an ERA of less than 4.00 and 90+ strikeouts. The ace in their rotation, senior right-hander Pauly Milto is also their workhorse, as he is the only Hoosiers with triple digit innings pitched and is partially responsible for 2 of IU’s 3 shutouts on the season. Not to be outdone, junior lefty Andrew Saalfrank posts the second-lowest ERA on the team at 2.58, and has tossed 96 strikeouts in just 69.2 innings, the 18th best strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate in the nation. Finally, junior right-hander Tanner Gordon’s WHIP of 0.99 is the lowest on the team among pitchers who have started a game this season, and his opponents’ batting average of .210 is the lowest among pitchers with a start and double digit innings pitched. Heading to the bullpen won’t get much easier for Louisville, as the Hoosiers have a pair of solid go-to relievers. Sophomores Connor Manous & Grant Sloan both have a WHIP under 1.00, and have the two lowest opponents’ batting average on the team. Manous’ ERA of 2.61 over 41.1 innings is good for third best on the team, while Sloan’s ERA of 4.30 over 23.0 innings is a bit high mainly due to having given up the second most home runs on the team. Overall, Indiana has a pitching staff that rivals Louisville’s and they will have to be disciplined at the plate against them.

Illinois State Redbirds

One of the more underrated team in all of college baseball, the Illinois State Redbirds actually boast a better RPI and SOS than Indiana, and join Louisville as the only two teams in the Louisville Regional with a winning road record. Unlike first year head coach Jeff Mercer of Indiana, ISU’s head coach Steve Holm is in his first year as a head coach at the D1 level. He has done a solid job, improving a 22-30 team from last year into a 34-21 team in 2019. While the Redbirds are just 5-14 against RPI top 50 teams this year, they were able to steal a game from Illinois, Dallas Baptist, Vanderbilt, and a pair of games from Indiana State. Illinois State has shown that they are very capable of defeating top tier opponents.

The most impressive part about Illinois State is their offensive consistency. With a team batting average of .295, they feature 5 players in the starting lineup with a batting average of .300 or more. Junior catcher Joe Aeilts & junior outfielder John Rave are the standout guys in the lineup, with both guys racking up 134 total bases and hitting double digit home runs. Aeilts’ .350 batting average is the best in the Missouri Valley Conference, with both Aeilts & Rave ranked 1st & 2nd in the conference in hits. Outside of those two, Illinois State is still a very dangerous team at the plate. 8 of their players in the starting lineup have 11 or more doubles, 5 have 20+ walks, 4 have triple digit total bases, 4 have 40+ RBI, 3 have 70+ hits, and only 1 has a batting average of .250 or less. Since this is all coming against the 6th best conference in D1 according to RPI, for the most part it’s not a bunch of empty offense. The Louisville pitching staff will have to respect their abilities at the plate and not get overly confident against the 3 seed.

On the pitching side of things, Illinois State leaves a little left to be desired. A middle of the road MVC pitching staff, their team ERA of 4.93 is the highest of all the teams in the Louisville Regional. Out of their starting rotation, only one pitcher really dominates the mound and that is Brent Headrick. Other than Reid Detmers, the junior lefty is the only other pitcher in the Louisville Regional with triple digit strikeouts at 101. That number also comes with only 27 walks to boot and an ERA of 3.50. ISU’s two other pitchers in their weekend rotation in Matt Walker & Jeff Lindgren both have an ERA of over 5.00 and an opponents batting average of .250 or above. Their bullpen workhorse in Colton Johnson has an ERA of 4.45 over 28 appearances and 60.2 innings pitched, and only two other relievers on their staff have an ERA of less than 4. If the Cards will have to face the Redbirds in the Louisville Regional, expect it to be a barnburner.

UIC Flames

Lead by 20th year head coach Mike Dee, the UIC Flames are the only team in the Louisville Regional with a head coach that has more experience years-wise than UofL’s Dan McDonnell. With an overall winning percentage of .560, Coach Dee’s postseason resume doesn’t exactly stand up to Coach Mac’s. He sports a 2-10 record over just 5 appearances (UIC’s only 5 NCAA appearances) in the NCAA Tournament. His first win came against #1 seeded Long Beach State in 2007, and his second came against #2 seeded Dallas Baptist in a 2008 regional elimination game. While UIC doesn’t have an overly impressive record of 29-21, they’ve won 11 of their last 14 which included winning the Horizon League Championship.

As a whole, UIC doesn’t pose that much of a threat from the plate, but feature a couple players in the heart of their lineup who can really rake. Freshman catcher Ryan Hampe and senior outfielder Scott Ota are the only Flames who are batting over .300, have over 30 RBI and have over 70 total bases. Hampe leads UIC in batting average with a .369 average, but it is Ota who is their best player. Ota carries a very impressive .746 slugging percentage and 19 home runs to lead the team, and his .454 on-base percentage sets his OPS at an eye-popping 1.200. As his OBP suggests, he’s not all power too. His 30 walks is tied for the team lead, and his .358 batting average is second only to Hampe. However outside of this dynamic duo, the Flames don’t offer much as the rest of the team posts a combined batting average of just .250. Keep in mind this is mainly against a mediocre Horizon League, a conference which is ranked 26th out of 31 D1 conferences in average RPI. As long as Louisville’s pitchers can limit what Hampe and Ota do, the rest of the starting lineup should be a walk in the park for the Cards on the mound.

Conversely, the Flames actually boast the Horizon League’s best pitching staff. They lead the conference in ERA, WHIP, hits allowed per nine innings and walks allowed per nine innings. Come Friday night, Louisville should expect to see junior right-hander Jacob Key take the mound to start for UIC. Key leads the Flames in strikeouts and innings pitched, and has the best ERA out of their weekend rotation. Over the season he has posted an ERA of 3.67, but has an ERA of 6.25 in his last 5 starts. Right-hander Alex Padilla and left-handers Mark McCabe & Sam Menegat are solid options of of the bullpen with a combined ERA of 1.14, but only have a combined strikeout-to-walk ratio of 56-42. In fact as a whole, UIC’s pitching staff only has 300 strikeouts on the season, less than half of UofL’s 606. Coupled with the fact that the Flames don’t walk a ton of batters, this gives me the impression that they are a team who relies on pitches that are good enough to make contact with but not good enough to produce base hits. That might work against teams like Milwaukee and Youngstown State, but it is definitely not a recipe for success against a team like Louisville. Even with the Cards not batting very well this past week at the ACC Baseball Championship, UIC is most certainly a team that will get the offense back on track.

I predict that Louisville’s offense will bounce back in their regional opener against UIC to set up a 1-0 game against IU. After taking care of the Hoosiers, Illinois State will bounce back after their elimination game over UIC and defeat IU to set up a regional final with the Cards. Louisville will triumph over the Redbirds and head to the super regionals for the sixth time in seven years.

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Matt McGavic

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