Despite earning the #1 overall seed in the ACC Tournament, Louisville was eliminated after dropping game one of their pool play to 12-seed Boston College, after Boston College pitcher Dan Metzdorf threw a complete game against the Cardinals. Louisville also lost game two of the ACC Tournament to Clemson, with their starting pitcher also nearly having a complete game against the Cardinals.
But in spite of going 0-2 in the conference tournament, Louisville still managed to do enough to clinch the #7 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville is a top eight seed in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and a regional host for the sixth time in the last seven. Louisville will get to host Indiana, Illinois State, and Illinois-Chicago this weekend, with the winner of that regional playing against the winner of the Greenville Regional next weekend (host East Carolina, NC State, Campbell, Quinnipiac).
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Meet the Opponents (Indiana)
Indiana (36-21) earns an NCAA Tournament berth under first-year head coach Jeff Mercer, who won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors after leading the Hoosiers to their seventh Big Ten regular season title in program history this season. IU is one of five teams from the Big Ten in this tournament.
The Hoosiers were ranked periodically throughout the season, and managed to rack up some impressive wins over teams like Michigan & Minnesota, en route to winning seven of their eight conference series. They also got wins over tournament teams such as Cincinnati, UConn, and Indiana State.
Among the teams in the tournament, Indiana has the most potent batting lineup of any. The Hoosiers hit 90 home runs this season, which is second nationally behind Arizona State. That number is supported by guys like All-Big Ten First Team player Matt Lloyd (.282/.573/.962 splits, 14 doubles, 16 home runs, 54 RBIs), and All-Big Ten Second Team players Cole Barr (.261/.576/.971, 14 doubles, 16 home runs, 50 RBIs), Matt Gorski (.274/.502/.879, 13 doubles, 12 home runs, 46 RBIs, 18 stolen bases), and Scotty Bradley (.264/.535/.890, 10 doubles, nine home runs, 26 RBIs). They have the potential to light up the scoreboard at any moment, but are also very prone to strikeouts. As a team, the Hoosiers have struck out 611 times at the plate, and Louisville threw 23 K’s against IU in their midweek game two weeks ago.
The praise that their hitting lineup gets is very much warranted, but their pitching is also very solid. IU ranked second in the Big Ten in ERA (3.63) and strikeouts (541), and have the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in Andrew Saalfrank (8-1, 2.58 ERA, 96 K’s). In conference play, Saalfrank only allowed more than three earned runs once (v. Michigan), and has struck out at least six batters in nine of his last ten appearances on the mound.
IU could try to save Saalfrank’s appearance for a potential matchup with Louisville’s Reid Detmers, but they’ll have plenty of options at their disposal. Tanner Gordon (6-5, 3.39 ERA, 90 strikeouts) and Pauly Milto (8-6, 3.54 ERA, 97 strikeouts) are guys that can get quality weekend starts for the Hoosiers. Matt Lloyd is also a top reliever for IU, allowing a 1.80 ERA in 13 appearances with five saves this season.
Meet the Opponents (Illinois State)
Illinois State (34-24) is one of three teams from the Missouri Valley Conference in the NCAA Tournament, joining Indiana State and Dallas Baptist. All three teams were ranked in the top 26 of the RPI (all back-to-back-to-back at #24, #25, and #26, weirdly enough), which is why the Redbirds made it into the tournament. The Redbirds managed to get one win in a series against Vanderbilt, as well as splitting a two-game series with Illinois Chicago, two wins over Indiana State, and a series win over MAC champion Central Michigan.
The Redbirds had a clean sweep of the marquee postseason awards in the MVC, taking home the Coach of the Year, Player of the Year, and Pitcher of the Year awards. First year head coach Steve Holm won the award after leading the Redbirds to a share of the MVC regular season title, as well as their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2010 (and fourth overall in program history).
Joe Aeilts won the MVC Player of the Year with a .350 batting average, 14 doubles, ten home runs, and 46 RBIs. He, along with John Rave (.304, 14 doubles, 12 home runs, 48 RBIs), are a tough power hitting tandem that can give Illinois State some potent offense. Both were named to the All-MVC First Team, with Rave also earning a spot on the conference’s All-Defense team.
The Redbirds averaged .295 at the plate, which was tops in the MVC. In addition to Aeilts and Rave, Illinois State had three other batters averaging over .300 at the plate, including All-MVC Honorable Mention Jack Butler (.304, 14 doubles, three home runs, 24 RBIs). They also led the MVC in doubles (119), with eight qualifying batters in their lineup hitting 10+ doubles. It’s a lineup that’s very capable of springing a couple of upsets in the tournament, as long as they can continue getting runners in position and having Aeilts and Rave bring timely hits.
As mentioned, they also have the MVC Pitcher of the Year in Brent Headrick. Headrick is a solid lefty in the lineup, boasting a 9-3 record with a 3.50 ERA and 101 strikeouts, and allowing .214 at the plate. Jacob Gilmore is a top reliever for the Redbirds, allowing a team-low 3.46 ERA with 11 saves in 20 appearances this season. Matt Walker (4-8, 5.11 ERA, 72 strikeouts) and Jeff Lindgren (5-4, 5.47 ERA, 66 strikeouts) are two guys with 65+ strikeouts in the Redbirds pitching rotation, but will need to have good weekend outings for the Redbirds to have a shot at pulling off a regional upset.
Meet the Opponents (Illinois-Chicago)
Of the four teams in the Louisville regional, Illinois-Chicago (29-21) was the only one that won its conference tournament. The Flames earned their spot in the NCAA Tournament after defeating Milwaukee and Wright State, en route to a Horizon League title. UIC has wins over Texas A&M, Illinois State, Northwestern, Wright State, and Milwaukee on their resume.
UIC has an absolute unit of a hitter in Scott Ota, who accounts for 19 of the Flames’ 38 home runs this season. Ota hit for .358 at the plate with .746 slugging, 1.200 OPS to go with his team-high 14 doubles, 19 home runs, and 62 RBIs (yet he was selected to the All-Horizon League Second Team). UIC doesn’t necessarily have the depth in their batting lineup that the other three teams in the Louisville regional have, but Ota is a certified game-changer when he is in the batter’s box.
Luckily for UIC, they did get an all-conference First Team player in freshman Ryan Hampe, who could also be on his way to earning Freshman All-American honors. Hampe led the Flames in batting average (.369) and doubles (14), to go with his five home runs and 47 RBIs. Joshua Figueroa (.279 batting, nine doubles, 32 RBIs) was selected as an All-Horizon League Second Team player.
The strength of the Flames roster, though, is their pitching. Only seven teams have finished in the top 30 in ERA in the last three seasons: UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford, Texas A&M, Michigan, Louisville, and UIC. So far, UIC has continued that tradition with a Horizon League-low 3.68 ERA, which ranks 26th in the country. By comparison, Indiana is 22nd in the country, and Louisville is 29th in that same category.
UIC enters the Louisville regional with the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year (Jacob Key) and the Horizon League Relief Pitcher of the Year (Alex Padilla). Both Key and Padilla were selected as First Team pitchers by the Horizon League. Key (7-7, 3.67 ERA) threw a league-high 100.2 innings and twirled 87 strikeouts while allowing .244 at the plate. Padilla had an outstanding year as a reliever, with a sub-1.00 ERA (.90), 1.10 WHIP, .115 batting average and seven saves this season. UIC also has a solid bullpen past Padilla, as both Mark McCabe (.93 ERA, .99 WHIP) and Sam Menegat (2-1, 1.64 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) both have a sub-2.00 ERA and holding batters to under .205 at the plate.
How to Watch / Listen:
The tournament schedule is as follows:
- Game 1: (2) Indiana v. (3) Illinois St. – 2 p.m. Friday
- Game 2: (1) Louisville v. (4) Illinois-Chicago – 6 p.m. Friday, approx.
- Game 3: Losers of Games 1 & 2 – 11 a.m. Saturday
- Game 4: Winners of Games 1 & 2 – 4 p.m. Saturday
- Game 5: Game 3 winner v. Game 4 loser – 12 p.m. Sunday
- Game 6: Game 4 winner v. Game 5 winner – 6 p.m. Sunday
- Game 7: Game 6 rematch, winner take all – 1 p.m. Monday (if necessary)
All games are available on ESPN3 (or WatchESPN app), with coverage also available on 93.9 The Ville.