Louisville Baseball Tabbed as AAC Favorite by Conference Coaches
Gardner chosen as American Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year as six Cardinals earn honors
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Following its record-setting 2013 season, the Louisville baseball team will enter 2014 as the unanimous favorite to win the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship while Cardinals’ senior outfielder Jeff Gardner was selected as the league’s Preseason Player of the Year on Monday.
Louisville, which won its fourth Big East regular season championship in five years and advanced to the College World Series for the second time in school history last season, received all eight possible first-place votes and 64 points overall in the preseason poll of the conference’s head coaches announced on Monday by the league. The Cardinals, ranked No. 8 in last week’s Collegiate Baseball newspaper preseason poll, was also tabbed as the preseason favorite in the Big East Conference last season before eventually winning the regular season title and a school record 51 games overall.
Following Louisville in Monday’s preseason poll was Houston, UCF and Connecticut in a three-way tie for second place with 47 points each. USF rounded out the top five with 34 points, while the final four spots in the preseason conference rundown were Memphis (30), Rutgers (27), Cincinnati (18) and Temple (8).
Gardner (Louisville, Ky.) headlined a group of six Cardinals, including junior righthanded pitcher Nick Burdi, sophomore righthanders Kyle Funkhouser and Anthony Kidston, senior outfielder Cole Sturgeon and junior infielder Sutton Whiting, earning preseason All-American Athletic Conference accolades on Monday. A First Team All-Big East selection last season and a member of the 2013 Louisville Regional NCAA All-Tournament Team, Gardner hit .337 with a team-leading nine home runs and 43 RBI. He also ranked 26th nationally with a .632 slugging percentage and finished with 15 doubles overall. In 2012, Gardner was a Second Team All-Big East honoree as he hit .299 with two home runs, 34 RBI, 35 runs scored, nine doubles and two triples in 58 games played.
Burdi (Downers Grove, Ill.) was among the best relievers in the nation last season earning 16 saves with a 0.76 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 29 relief appearances and 35.2 innings pitched. He was named First Team All-America by Perfect Game and Second Team All-America by the NCBWA during a dominant sophomore season in which he allowed opposing batters to hit just .192 while issuing only 13 walks. He finished with a 3-3 record overall while also earning First Team All-Big East Conference honors.
Funkhouser (Oak Forest, Ill.) earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America recognition last season after going 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA and one save in 54.2 innings pitched and 22 total appearances on the mound. While also making six starts, he finished the season with 55 strikeouts and only 25 walks as opposing batters hit just .214 against him. His best outing in 2013 came in a four-hit complete game shutout win at Eastern Kentucky when he finished with a career-best seven strikeouts and did not issue a walk.
Also a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2013, Kidston (Defiance, Ohio) was 5-0 with one save and a 1.31 ERA while making 13 appearances on the mound, including six starts. He also finished with 58 strikeouts in 48.0 innings pitched. His best outing of the season came in a mid-April start against Elon when he struck out a career seven while allowing only three hits in eight shutout innings for the win against the Phoenix.
A three-year starter and a two-time All-Big East selection, Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky.) earned Third Team honors in 2013 as the Cardinals’ leading hitter with a .339 average to go with one home run, nine doubles and 13 stolen bases in 60 starts. A talented two-way player as a lefty reliever out of the Louisville bullpen, he was a Second Team All-Big East honoree in 2012 when he hit .321 with one home run, 45 RBI, 42 runs scored, 11 doubles and five triples in 63 games and 62 starts.
A Second Team All-Big East selection in 2013, Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa.) hit .308 with one home run, 30 RBI, 41 runs scored and 24 stolen bases in 63 starts and 64 games played as the Cardinals’ everyday shortstop. The athletic shortstop is Louisville’s leading returner in runs, stolen bases, walks (21) triples, (four) and sacrifice bunts (eight).
Louisville, ranked No. 8 nationally in the Collegiate Baseball newspaper preseason poll released last week, will open the 2014 season on Friday, Feb. 14 against West Virginia (noon ET) at the Homewood Suites Tournament hosted by The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. The Cardinals’ 36-game home schedule at Jim Patterson Stadium is set to begin on Feb. 19 at 3 p.m., against Eastern Kentucky.
The first weekend of American Athletic Conference action is scheduled for March 21-23. The 2014 AAC Baseball Championship will be contested at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., on May 21-25.
2014 Preseason American Athletic Conference Baseball Coaches’ Poll
Place – Team (First-place votes) – Points
*1. Louisville (8) – 64
T2. Houston (1) – 47
T2. UCF – 47
T2. UConn – 47
5. USF – 34
6. Memphis – 30
7. Rutgers – 27
8. Cincinnati – 18
9. Temple – 8
* Unanimous Selection
Preseason American Athletic Conference Player of the Year: Jeff Gardner, OF, Louisville
Preseason American Athletic Conference Pitchers of the Year: Carson Cross, P, UConn & Jimmy Herget, P, USF
2014 Preseason All-American Athletic Conference Team
P – Carson Cross, RJr., UConn
P – Anthony Kidston, So., Louisville
P – Kyle Funkhouser, So., Louisville
P – Jimmy Herget, So., USF
* RP – Nick Burdi, Jr., Louisville
C – Carter White, Jr., Memphis
1B – Tucker Tubbs, Jr., Memphis
2B – Nik Alonso, RSo., USF
SS – Sutton Whiting, Jr., Louisville
* 3B – Justin Montemayor, So., Houston
OF – Jeff Gardner, Sr., Louisville
OF – Ian Happ, So., Cincinnati
OF – Cole Sturgeon, Sr., Louisville
OF – Vinny Zarrilo, Jr., Rutgers
* DH – Bret Gordon, Sr., UCF
* – unanimous selection
Extra Outfielder added due to tie in voting