The Cardinal Nine continue their march through April, and into May for the final month of the regular season. Louisville came out of last week with a perfect 4-0 record once again, starting off with an 11-4 win over Western Kentucky. Then, they swept Notre Dame through three games in South Bend, putting themselves in prime position to potentially clinch the Atlantic Division.
Up next, Louisville baseball enters the spotlight tonight, facing Vanderbilt in a top-five matchup with major postseason implications. The Cards then travel to Virginia for their final conference road series this weekend.
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NCAA Tournament Projections
With college baseball entering its final month of the regular season, Louisville figures to be in position for a very favorable draw in the NCAA Tournament.
Baseball America has the Cards projected as the fourth overall seed, hosting Tennessee, Indiana State, and Ball State, with #13 LSU as their paired top-16 seed. A top eight overall seed would mean Louisville would not only host a regional series, but also a super regional if they were to advance.
D1Baseball.com also has Louisville as a top eight overall seed, projecting them at #5 with Illinois, Cal-Berkeley, and Ball State in their regional. LSU is also paired with Louisville as the #12 overall seed.
Given their current resume, it’s hard to argue against Louisville being a favorite to emerge as a top eight overall seed. Louisville has the most wins in Division I baseball with 39, and currently ranked seventh in the RPI. They also hold an 18-7 record against teams currently ranked in the RPI top 50, and they’ll have a chance to improve on it and bolster their resume for the NCAA Tournament. Their final eight regular season games consist of non-conference matchups against #2 Vanderbilt and #28 Indiana, as well as a weekend series against #59 Virginia and #53 Florida State.
Notable News & Stats
It’s becoming routine for Alex Binelas to make big plays for the Cardinals at the plate. The freshman followed his ACC Player of the Week award on Monday with three home runs throughout last week. Binelas hit two homers in Louisville’s win over Western Kentucky on Tuesday, and a go-ahead three run homer in the top of the eighth to give the Cards a 3-1 win over Notre Dame on Saturday. He is now batting .344, and leads the team in OPS (1.159) and home runs (nine). With his surging play as of late and his power in the lineup, Binelas could potentially be in line for a freshman All-American and All-ACC spot.
Justin Lavey had a strong weekend at Notre Dame, batting over .500 with a 5-for-9 showing at the plate. Tyler Fitzgerald drove in six RBIs to go with his 6-for-17 line throughout the week, raising his RBI total to a team-high 56 (and fourth in the ACC). Zach Britton was not too far behind Fitzgerald, hitting 5-for-12 (.417) during the week with a double and an RBI.
Louisville’s 4-0 record last weekend came on a strong effort from their pitching staff. Reid Detmers was his usual self on Friday, holding the Irish to only one hit in seven innings. Striking out seven batters, Detmers raised his season total to 120, now 26 away from reaching the single-season record of 146.
With Nick Bennett not making an appearance over the weekend, Bobby Miller got the start on Saturday and delivered another win for Louisville. The sophomore threw a season-high eight innings, only allowing one earned run on three hits.
And with Bobby Miller moving up to the Saturday spot, Glenn Albanese made his first career start on Sunday. Albanese earned the win by throwing three innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits.
Bryan Hoeing made two appearances out of the bullpen last week, combining for nine total strikeouts on 6.2 innings pitched against Western Kentucky and Notre Dame. Hoeing also earned a win on Tuesday against the Hilltoppers, pitching three shutout innings with three strikeouts.
Michael McAvene earned his sixth save of the season on Saturday, securing the final out on a bases-loaded jam to secure the 3-1 win over Notre Dame.
Louisville (39-9) gets to face Vanderbilt (38-9) tonight, a consensus top-three ranked team and a favorite to reach the College World Series since the preseason. Vanderbilt’s only series losses up to this point are against Georgia and Texas A&M, both Top 25 teams. But they do have series sweeps of Florida, Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, and series wins over Tennessee and Arkansas. Their non-conference resume is also very solid, holding wins over Virginia, Cal State Fullerton, and Indiana State. The Commodores enter tonight’s game with 11 straight wins, tied for the longest active streak in the country.
The Cardinals then turnaround for their final conference road series of the regular season, taking on Virginia. The Cavaliers (27-20) are 20-9 at home this season, have series wins over Villanova, Pitt and Notre Dame, and are currently ranked 59th in the RPI.
Players to Watch (Vanderbilt)
If you’re looking for marquee matchups this week, it won’t get any more juicy than Louisville’s pitching staff versus Vanderbilt’s offense. Louisville leads the ACC in ERA (3.29), strikeouts (505), and opposing batting average (.203). Vanderbilt leads the SEC in batting average (.321), slugging (.525), runs scored (405), triples (15), home runs (66), and they’re third in the SEC in walks (261).
With these offensive totals in arguably the best conference in college baseball, it’s no surprise that Vanderbilt may very well be one of, if not the, best team(s) in the country. Leading the charge is outfielder J.J. Bleday, who just broke the single-season Vanderbilt record for home runs with 23. His 23 homers currently leads all of Division I, and Bleday also leads the Commodores in RBIs (61) and walks (39).
Bleday is certainly an All-American candidate and a Golden Spikes Award contender. They also have Austin Martin, who is batting an insane .429 average with .515 on-base and .647 slugging. Martin is also one of five Commodore batters with 10+ doubles, drilling 14 on the season. Ethan Paul (.339, 16 doubles), Philip Clarke (.322, 11 doubles), Stephen Scott (.317, 15 doubles), and Pat DeMarco (11 doubles) also have reached double figures, with Paul and Clarke also reaching 50+ RBIs on the season. Vanderbilt is the only Power Five school with three players driving in 50+ RBIs this year (Bleday, Paul, and Clarke).
Vanderbilt is also starting the undefeated Mason Hickman (6-0, 2.05 ERA) at the mound tonight. Hickman has made a bulk of his appearances as a reliever, but he leads the team in ERA and is holding opponents to just under .200 at the plate. Vanderbilt has a deep bullpen with multiple guys holding opponents to under .200 batting, including Ethan Smith (4-0, 3.80 ERA, .155 opp. batting) and closer Tyler Brown (1-1, 2.70 ERA, 11 saves, .191 opp. batting).
Players to Watch (Virginia)
Much like Vanderbilt, Virginia’s strength lies in their hitting. The Cavaliers are currently fourth in the ACC with a .288 batting average, but they rank ninth in runs scored (300) and ERA (4.41).
Four qualifying batters for UVA currently average over .300: Tanner Morris (.342), Brendan Rivoli (.316), Zack Gelof (.311), and Nic Kent (.303). Morris is the most potent hitter in the Cavaliers lineup, leading the team with 20 doubles (also first in the ACC), and five home runs. He, along with Rivoli and Kent, are also the only UVA batters who have driven in 30+ RBIs on the season. Nate Elkhoff (.287, nine doubles, 28 RBIs) is another player to watch for UVA, as he could be a breakout player against Louisville.
As a group, Virginia’s pitching staff is ninth in both ERA (4.41) and opponents’ batting average (.255). If the Cavaliers expect to pull off an upset of Louisville, they’ll need to get a good outing from starters Griff McGarry (3-5, 4.24 ERA) and Noah Murdock (3-4, 5.17 ERA). However, the Cavaliers have allowed 228 walks this season, which is 11th out of 14 ACC schools. It’s a very concerning stat going against a Louisville team that is tied for third in on-base percentage (.399) and leads the ACC in stolen bases (88).
How to Watch / Listen:
Louisville v. Vanderbilt will air on ESPNU at 7 p.m. EDT, with coverage also available on 93.9 The Ville. This is a ticketed game.
The road series between Louisville and Virginia starts on Friday at 6 p.m. EDT. Saturday’s game starts at 4 p.m. EDT, with Sunday’s finale at 1 p.m. All three games are available on 93.9 The Ville and WatchESPN.