Louisville’s run as the #1 team in the country took a minor stumble off the starting block this past weekend. The Cardinals won the opening game in Oxford against Ole Miss, but lost the next two to cede the series to the Rebels.
The Cardinals (1-2) still hold the #1 spot in the Perfect Game Top 25, but otherwise took a tumble in the other four polls released on Monday. They will look to rebound with a two-week homestand that spans from February 19th to March 3rd, starting with a game on Wednesday against Wright State. They will also host Valparaiso this weekend at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Injuries for Louisville
Louisville will be without Lucas Dunn and Alex Binelas for the next few weeks, as both are dealing with hamate injuries. Dunn’s injury kept him out of the lineup all weekend, and he will be out for a few more weeks. Binelas could be out for a similar timeframe, as the injury appeared to have occurred during Saturday’s loss at Ole Miss (also reported by Aaron Fitt of D1baseball.com).
While they are both out, expect Louisville to start Andrew Benefield primarily at third base, with Jared Poland and Tim Borden II both splitting reps at second base. Benefield seems to have a more solid hold on the position for the time being, as he batted .500 with two RBIs and a double during the weekend. Poland might be the primary option at second, but once called upon as a relief pitcher, can allow for Borden to come on at second base and provide some defense.
The two most likely breakout candidates for Louisville validated their cases this past weekend. Zach Britton and Henry Davis left opening weekend as the team leaders in batting average (.500) and doubles (three), with Britton narrowly edging Davis out in slugging and OPS (Britton has 1.000 slugging and 1.583 OPS, Davis with .875 slug and 1.475 OPS).
Ben Bianco certainly enjoyed his return home to Oxford, MS. The junior batted .300 against his father’s team, and most notably hit a home run in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game against Ole Miss. You can also read more about Ben’s journey to Louisville (and more) in my feature that was released on Friday.
It was business as usual for Reid Detmers, who opened his 2020 season with a win. The junior lefty managed to allow just one earned run and struck out nine batters, picking up where he left off from his record-setting 2019 campaign.
If there’s one area that was lacking during the weekend, baserunning would be it. The Cardinals, normally known for being an aggressive yet efficient baserunning team under Dan McDonnell, went 0-3 on stolen base attempts during the weekend. Sunday’s game saw it end with Justin Lavey being picked off while attempting to steal second, thwarting a chance to tie the game after trailing 7-4 entering the ninth. An error in baserunning in the first inning nearly led to an inadvertent double play, but a dropped ball by the Ole Miss catcher managed to allow Louisville to score a run and keep a runner safe at third.
Last Week’s Results:
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Looking at Wright State
Wright State (0-3) enters Wednesday’s game coming off being swept this past weekend by Mississippi State on the road. The Raiders were picked to finish second in the Horizon League behind Illinois-Chicago this preseason, but a tough road slate to start the year will test them early on. Wright State will not play a home game until March 10th, and after Mississippi State and Louisville road trips, will also go out to face Western Kentucky, Auburn, and Tennessee.
The Raiders enter 2020 with the reigning Horizon League Freshman of the Year, Tyler Black. Black averaged .353 last season with 11 doubles, seven home runs, and 41 RBIs, but hit .182 last weekend against Mississippi State. Damon Dues (.375 batting, one triple) and Quincy Hamilton (.300) were the lone bright spots for a team that batted .172 in its opening weekend, and allowed its opponent to bat .297.
Looking at Valparaiso
Like Wright State, Valparaiso is another team that will be tested by a lengthy road stretch to start the season. The Crusaders won’t play their home opener until March 24th, and this coming weekend in Louisville is likely the toughest of that period.
Valparaiso went 1-2 this past weekend at Western Kentucky (winning Monday’s finale 5-3 in ten innings), and returns to the Bluegrass State to face the Cardinals at Jim Patterson Stadium. Valparaiso was picked to finish last in the Missouri Valley preseason poll, and coming off a 14-36 record in 2019. Damon Jorgenson (.333) is tied for the team lead in batting, and provided the go-ahead RBI bunt in the tenth inning to give the Crusaders a win on Sunday over the Hilltoppers. Riley Dent (.333) shares the batting lead with Jorgenson, and has the team’s lone home run through the first weekend.
Easton Roadhouse (1-1, 2.08 ERA) was also stellar down the stretch, throwing three no-hit innings in the eighth, ninth, and tenth to allow the Crusaders to pull off a comeback win. Despite the appearance in relief, Roadhouse could also make a start for the Crusaders this weekend, as he did at Western Kentucky this past weekend. Pitching is expected to be a strength of the team, with Valparaiso returning 92% of its production from last year.
How to Watch / Listen:
Louisville’s home opener against Wright State will take at 3:00 p.m. ET Wednesday, available on the ACC Network and on 1450 AM.
The series between Louisville and Valparaiso also starts at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, with Saturday and Sunday’s games both set to start at 1:00 p.m. All three games of the series will be available on ACC Network Extra (through the WatchESPN app); Friday’s game will air on 1450 AM, with both Saturday and Sunday’s game also available on 93.9 The Ville.