Around The Bases: Bellarmine

After 11 months, Louisville Baseball makes its return to the diamond this weekend against Bellarmine, welcoming the Knights to Division I baseball to open the 2021 season. The Cardinals and Knights face each other for the first time since 1993, when Louisville pulled out a 9-7 win.

Last Season in Review

Louisville finished 2020 with a 13-4 record, winning 12 of its final 13 games before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the rest of the season to be canceled. They closed out the season scoring 13+ runs in their final three games; a 16-4 win at Wake Forest on March 8th, as well as 13-2 and 13-3 wins over Chicago State on March 10th and 11th.

The Polls

No changes have been made to the polls since their initial preseason release. Louisville’s aggregate rank remains a 6.2 heading into opening weekend.

Recent News and Notes

  • The staff at Perfect Game has Louisville’s Alex Binelas, Henry Davis, and Levi Usher among its picks to win the Golden Spikes Award, the most prestigious individual award in college baseball. Three of the ten writers also picked Louisville to win the College World Series.
  • Binelas was also among those discussed for Preseason Player of the Year at Baseball America.
  • Be sure to check out parts one and two of the preseason primer that detail the schedule, offseason notes, and roster breakdown for the 2021 Louisville Baseball team.
  • Louisville Baseball announced its opening weekend rotation via Twitter on Wednesday. Glenn Albanese will get the start on Friday, with seniors Adam Elliott and Luke Smith starting on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
  • The attendance policy was also announced on Monday for fans looking to attend games at Jim Patterson Stadium this season.
  • Louisville was voted as the preseason ACC favorite for both the Atlantic Division and the overall champion.

Recent Stats & Trends

Note: All stats and trends this week are from the 2020 season.

The outfield duo of Levi Usher and Luke Brown should be one of the most electrifying in college baseball. Usher ended his 2020 season as the only qualifying hitter averaging over .400 (.411 BA), while Brown finished with a .328 average. Brown enters this weekend with an eight-game hitting streak dating back to February 29th, 2020 against Western Michigan.

Both Usher and Brown had 11 stolen bases each, combining for 22 of Louisville’s 36 stolen bases in 2020. Chris Seng (3-3) is the third-leading player in stolen bases returning for the 2021 season.

Among qualified hitters, Henry Davis is the only other returning player that averaged over .300 at the plate. Davis batted .372 with a .698 slugging, and 1.179 OPS. It is worth noting that projected starter Tim Borden II (.444), along with Ben Metzinger (.349), Cameron Masterman (.333), and Dalton Rushing (.308) also batted over .300 with significant game time last season.

After a successful 2020 season as relievers, Glenn Albanese and Adam Elliott are hoping to carry that momentum into 2021 as weekend starters. Albanese finished with a 2.08 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, holding opponents to a .172 batting average. Elliott was also sensational last season, having a 0.87 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with a .162 opponent batting average.

As for the third weekend starter, Luke Smith had a solid 2020 season. Smith finished 3-0 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, also maintaining an 18:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Michael Kirian also returns for Louisville as its likely closer, giving the Cardinals another reliable option in late game situations. Kirian was absolutely spectacular in 2020, only allowing a .47 WHIP in six appearances with no earned runs, and registering all six saves for Louisville last season. Evan Webster (1-1, 1.04 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) also returns as a solid lefty that can bolster the lineup.

The Opponent

Louisville opens its 2021 season against the Bellarmine Knights, who made the leap to Division I this past summer. Bellarmine previously spent 42 years as a founding member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference, before moving to the Atlantic Sun Conference as part of their transition to Division I athletics.

The Knights ended their run in Division II on a high note. 2020 saw the Knights finish 10-4, winning all ten games in their final 11 contests before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the rest of the season.

In 2019, Bellarmine captured its fourth GLVC conference tournament title and secured a birth in the NCAA Tournament, going undefeated throughout the conference tournament in the process.

Head coach Larry Owens returns for his eighth season with Bellarmine, going 188-146 in his previous seven years at the Division II level. Owens also led the Knights to a single-season record 38 wins in 2018, as well as three straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2017-19. They were also ranked as high as 17th in the 2020 preseason polls.

Players to Watch for Bellarmine:

Senior Josh Finerty was named to the preseason All-Atlantic Sun team by Perfect Game in January, and should be one of the top players in the conference this season. The sixth-year player finished 2020 with a slash line of .365/.468/.635 (batting, on-base, and slugging, respectively), a team-high 1.103 OPS, as well as eight doubles, two home runs, and ten RBI.

Outfielder Matt Higgins (.378) and second baseman Justin Rouse (.333) also return as plus-.300 hitters in the Bellarmine batting order, giving the Knights a veteran lineup that can produce. Higgins, along with Chris Gambert (four HR, 13 RBIs in ’20; .338 career batting), have previously been named All-Americans in Division II. Jacob Mulcahy (.300 career batting average) is a consistent player that could be the glue guy for Bellarmine this season.

On the mound, Bellarmine will have to replace Brandon Pfaadt this season, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer. Expect Deylen Miley and Shane Barringer to reprise their roles as weekend starters for the Knights. Both Miley and Barringer were weekend starters last year, going 1-0 and 2-1, respectively. Miley had 21 strikeouts to 11 walks in 2020 and was named second team All-GLVC in 2019, going .277 at the plate with eight doubles, seven home runs and, 36 RBI; he’ll likely have the DH role when he is not starting this weekend.

Barringer has pitched a complete game, going seven innings against Quincy with ten strikeouts and two earned runs in his final appearance of 2020.

The final weekend starter likely comes down to Jacob Nagel or Reece Davis. Nagel was an All-GLVC second team selection in 2018, going 6-4 with a 4.85 ERA, and a 39:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio (simplified to 13:1). Davis had a start last season and finished a 6.06 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP.

Anthony Ethington (10-3, 3.61 ERA) could be the top bullpen option in 2021, and he is probably the most steady hand that Bellarmine has on the mound. He had a 14:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2020 and has held opponents to .220 at the plate in his college career.

How to Watch / Listen:

The season opener against Bellarmine takes place on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. Sunday will feature a doubleheader starting at noon ET. All three games can also be found on ACC Network Extra (available through the ESPN app) and 93.9 The Ville. (Updated 2/19: due to the recent weather in Louisville, general public admission will not be permitted for this weekend’s series, per release from U of L).

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