Last week was about as good as it could get for the Louisville Cardinals. After surviving a tough regional round, U of L cruised in the Super Regionals against East Carolina, taking a 14-1 win on Friday afternoon, and shutting out the Pirates 12-0 to clinch their fifth appearance in the College World Series.
Louisville now heads to the mecca of the college baseball world, looking to secure its first national title in program history. To get to the finals though, they will need to survive a pool filled with some of the best teams in the SEC: #2 Vanderbilt, #6 Mississippi State, and Auburn.
Notable News & Stats
As mentioned, it was a really dominant performance by Louisville last week. The Cardinals outscored the Pirates 26-1 (ECU’s only run during the entire round came on Spencer Brickhouse’s solo home run on Friday), outhit them 32-8, and averaged .390 at the plate versus ECU’s .135.
The Cardinals’ offensive explosion came with a lot of huge performances: Danny Oriente has emerged as the leading hitter in the U of L lineup (now averaging .330), batting 4-for-7 in the Super Regional with a double and three RBIs. Tyler Fitzgerald set a new career-high with four hits on Friday against ECU, averaging .400 (4-for-10) for the series. Justin Lavey also went 4-for-7 with two doubles and four RBIs against ECU. Drew Campbell had the most impressive showing of anyone in Louisville, batting 5-for-9 in the Super Regional with two doubles, a triple, and three RBI. Campbell went 3-for-5 in the deciding game on Saturday, falling a home run shy of hitting for the cycle.
Louisville’s pitching and defense was also as efficient as it gets. Reid Detmers allowed just one earned run on five hits in seven innings pitched, recording his 12th win of the season (now in a four-way tie for second-most wins in a single season for U of L). Bobby Miller had one of the most thrilling performances by a Louisville pitcher in program history, taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning before retiring to a standing ovation. The Cardinals used only two relievers during the Super Regional, giving Garrett Schmeltz (Friday) and Michael Kirian (Saturday) the opportunity to close each game out.
By advancing to the College World Series, that means star reliever and third round draft pick Michael McAvene will be able to throw in at least one more game in his college career. McAvene served a four-game suspension after being ejected in the ninth inning against Indiana in the Louisville Regional, having to sit out both games against Illinois State and East Carolina. With a bullpen that saw almost everyone get a week’s rest, as well as Nick Bennett, Louisville’s arms should be as fresh as possible heading into the College World Series.
With the College World Series around the corner, postseason accolades are starting to roll in. Alex Binelas is among those earning honors, being selected as a freshman All-American by the NCBWA and the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. The freshman from Oak Creek, WI earned the honors after emerging as Louisville’s top power hitter in the lineup, carrying a slash line of .307/.396/.651 with 14 doubles, 14 home runs, and 59 RBIs.
All-American honors also have come in recently, and Louisville’s Reid Detmers (who would perhaps be the most viable candidate) was snubbed off of the Baseball America team. Detmers has gone 12-4 this season with a 2.85 ERA, .89 WHIP, school-record 162 strikeouts and did not make the All-American team for either publication.
(Author’s note: Since this post, Detmers, along with Tyler Fitzgerald, have earned All-American honors from multiple publications.)
For those that are interested in gambling, Louisville is tied with Texas Tech for the fourth-best odds of winning the College World Series (+800). Arkansas and Vanderbilt are tied for the best odds at +300, with Mississippi State not far behind at +350. Auburn and Florida State sit at +1000, with Michigan facing the longest odds at +1500.
For this preview, we will only focus on who is in Louisville’s four-team pool.
First, we have #2 Vanderbilt (54-11), who is now the team to beat after #1 UCLA was eliminated by Michigan last weekend. Vanderbilt blew by their regional round, and beat Duke in three games last weekend to earn a spot in Omaha. Vanderbilt will be looking for its second national title in six years.
#6 Mississippi State (51-13) is the third team to make it in Louisville’s pool, sweeping through the Regional and Super Regional rounds to get to Omaha. The Bulldogs swept #11 Stanford last weekend to lock their spot up.
Auburn (38-26) is the underdog of this SEC-heavy pool, upsetting two national seeds (Georgia Tech and North Carolina) to clinch their first appearance in the College World Series since 1997. The series clincher against North Carolina opened a lot of eyes, as the Tigers scored 13 runs in the first inning en route to a 14-7 win over the Tar Heels.
Players to Watch (Vanderbilt)
The story is the same with Vanderbilt as it was last month. They have an extremely deep batting lineup, with power hitting up and down the order, and top notch pitching to boot.
The star for Vanderbilt also remains the same. JJ Bleday has continued to mash balls out of the ballpark at a staggering pace, leading all of Division I with 26 home runs. Bleday averages .350 at the plate with 13 doubles, 26 home runs, 69 RBIs, .717 slugging, 54 walks, and 1.181 OPS. He was also selected fourth overall in the MLB Draft by the Miami Marlins.
Bleday is hands down the best power hitter on the team, but Austin Martin might be the most consistent. Martin is averaging .410 batting, and he along with Bleday are one of three Vandy boys with an OPS over 1.000 (Stephen Scott is the other). Martin is also one of the best baserunners on the team, as he is second on the team with 18 stolen bases. Vanderbilt has 77 on the year, more than doubling their opponents in that category.
Both Stephen Scott (.339 batting) and Ethan Paul (.323) have 20+ doubles on the season, part of Vanderbilt’s 157 on the season. Julian Infante (.246) and Philip Clarke (.303) are always due for a timely hit when the Commodores need it most. Infante has 12 home runs on the season, while Clarke is third on the team with 68 RBIs.
With facing the Commodores on Sunday, it opens the door for freshman Kumar Rocker to start against Reid Detmers. Rocker is coming off a no-hitter against Duke in game two, the first ever in a Super Regional round. Rocker also struck out 19 batters in the contest, and has lived up to his hype carried over from high school. He has been spectacular in the tournament, and so has Drake Fellows (12-1, 4.15 ERA). Either of the two would be able to give Vanderbilt a quality start in their first game of the College World Series.
Players to Watch (Mississippi State)
Mississippi State is another team that is an offensive juggernaut, averaging .317 at the plate as a team and featuring a lot of high-end talent. Jake Mangum (.355 batting), Tanner Allen (.348), and Justin Foscue (.338) all have 22 doubles each, part of Mississippi State’s 160 this season. Jordan Westburg (.299) also has 20 doubles, giving the Bulldogs a ton of power in their lineup.
Many will recognize head coach Chris Lemonis as a former assistant under Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell, and he is emerging as one of the best coaches in the country up to this point. He’s adopted a team identity that also centers around aggressive baserunning (60 stolen bases on the season) and quality pitching (3.47 ERA, .225 hitting as a team), much like McDonnell.
Louisville’s Reid Detmers is second in the country in strikeouts with 162, and Mississippi State’s Ethan Small is #1 with 168. He will likely go down as a consensus All-American, sporting a 10-2 record with a 1.76 ERA and allowing .164 at the plate.
J.T. Ginn (8-4, 3.36 ERA, 103 strikeouts) is the guy Louisville would most likely face, assuming they meet in their next game. Ginn was the Co-National Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball, turning down a pro offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers to come to Starkville.
Players to Watch (Auburn)
Auburn only averages .265 at the plate as a team, but a lot of their key players are getting hot at the right time. Conor Davis (.287 batting) went 6-for-12 in the Super Regional, and if the Tigers expect a big run in Omaha, they will need him to continue his torrid stretch at the plate.
Edouard Julien could be a huge X-factor in the Tigers lineup. The sophomore went 5-for-12 with six RBIs last weekend. Ryan Bliss (.283) also had a huge week with a 5-for-14 line against the Tar Heels, and he is one of seven Auburn batters with 10+ doubles (Davis, Judd Ward, Bliss, Rankin Woley, Kasin Howell, Matt Schiffler, and Julien).
On the mound, Auburn carries a respectable 4.49 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, but has allowed .260 at the plate. However, Auburn has been through the grind of the SEC conference schedule, facing a ton of great offenses over the course of the season. Tanner Burns (4-3, 2.73 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, .212 opp. batting) is the best option as their starter, also reaching exactly 100 strikeouts on the season. Cody Greenhill (12 saves, 3.49 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) is a top reliever and closer for Auburn, who could likely make an appearance or two if the Tigers find themselves in a bind.
How to Watch / Listen:
Shown here is an outlined bracket highlighting Louisville’s potential path to the title game, courtesy of NCAA.com. (Note: all times shown in the graphic are Central Time. All times listed in the article are for Eastern Time).
Louisville’s first game in the College World Series will be at 2 p.m. against Vanderbilt on Sunday, with coverage on ESPN. All games for Louisville’s run in Omaha will also air on 93.9 The Ville.
The schedule afterwards will vary for U of L depending on how they perform in their pool. No matter what though, Louisville is guaranteed two games minimum. If Louisville wins their first game, they will play in the nightcap on Tuesday (7 p.m. on ESPN) against the winner of Mississippi State v. Auburn. If they lose the first game, the Cards will play in the elimination game against the loser of Miss. St. v. Auburn at 2 p.m. ET.
If Louisville goes 1-1 after the first two games, regardless of where the loss happens, they will play on Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 in the 5th/6th place game. A win on Thursday would move them to a Friday game at 7 p.m., and if necessary, a Saturday game also at 7 p.m. to determine a finalist in the College World Series.