Around the Bases: Eastern Kentucky and Western Illinois

Louisville could not have asked for a much better start to the 2021 season. The Cardinals swept the Knights on opening weekend with winning scores of 5-1, 13-1, and 8-3 on Saturday and Sunday (doubleheader), respectively. Louisville opens the season 3-0 for the first time since 2018, as it continues on with games against Eastern Kentucky and Western Illinois.

The Polls

Louisville made some leaps in the polls after a perfect 3-0 weekend, including jumping five spots in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll. The climb in the polls has raised Louisville’s average rank to 4.8.

In Case You Missed It:

  • Cameron Masterman earned ACC Player of the Week honors on Monday, after a massive showing at the plate. The junior batted .545 (6-for-11) with three home runs and six RBI against Bellarmine last weekend, accounting for half of Louisville’s six home runs on opening weekend.
  • Louisville baseball appears to be the latest program adopting Muhammad Ali-inspired uniforms in their itinerary (author’s note: 11/10, absolutely approve).
  • General public admission will be allowed for Tuesday’s game against Eastern Kentucky.
  • Preseason consensus #1 Florida lost two of three on opening weekend to Miami. While we’re still three months away from the Louisville-Miami series, Miami has risen to #1 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll.

Notable Stats

In addition to his .545 batting average last weekend, Cameron Masterman also had 1.364 slugging and a whopping 1.979 OPS against Bellarmine. Henry Davis, Levi Usher, and Dalton Rushing also hit home runs on opening weekend to open their 2021 season.

Masterman, along with Davis (.400), Usher (.333), and Luke Brown (.364) ended the Bellarmine series with batting averages over .300 among qualifying hitters (min. two plate appearances per game, and at least 75% of all games played). Louisville enters this week’s batch of games averaging .317 at the plate, currently second in the ACC.

Cooper Bowman made his Louisville debut in game one of Sunday’s doubleheader, and had an impressive showing at second base. Bowman finished 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Christian Knapczyk (1-1), Jack Payton (1-2), and Tyeler Hawkins also made their Louisville debuts against Bellarmine.

The annual tradition of Louisville being an elite base running team got off to a great start last weekend. The Cardinals went 11-for-11 on stolen bases against Bellarmine, fourth in Division I baseball as of February 22nd.

Louisville allowed just five runs on opening weekend, including one each in games one and two of the series. Glenn Albanese struck out seven batters in five innings of work in his first start since 2019, allowing just one earned run. Adam Elliott pitched four shutout innings with seven strikeouts in his Sunday start, with Luke Smith allowing one earned run and five strikeouts in four innings of work.

Garrett Schmeltz closed out the series sweep with a shutout ninth inning in game two of Sunday’s doubleheader, making his first appearance on the mound since the 2019 College World Series. Kaleb Corbett, Seamus Barrett, and Riley Phillips all made their Louisville debut out of the bullpen throughout the weekend, with Barrett twirling six strikeouts in three innings of work during game two. Barrett, Phillips (1.0 IP, 3 K), and Elliott combined for 16 strikeouts in Louisville’s 13-1 win.

Tate Kuehner and Jared Poland also had shutouts in their bullpen appearances, as the Cardinals finished the weekend with a 1.67 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and a .156 opponent batting average.

The Opponents

Louisville continues its eight-game homestand to open the season with a midweek game against Eastern Kentucky today, followed by a weekend series against Western Illinois.

EKU enters today’s game with a 1-2 record, dropping two of three on the road against Georgia Tech (the Colonels, however, went 12-2 in 2020 prior to the season being canceled). Eastern Kentucky is set to join Bellarmine in the Atlantic Sun this coming July.

Western Illinois makes its 2021 season debut at Louisville, after its planned opening weekend series with Central Arkansas was canceled last weekend. The Leathernecks previously went 0-13 in 2020, and 22-31 in 2019.

Eastern Kentucky Breakdown picked EKU second baseman Daniel Harris IV as its preseason Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, while Collegiate Baseball nominated him as second team All-American. Harris batted .460 in 2020 with three doubles, one triple, two home runs, and 16 RBI, but went .154 at the plate on opening weekend against Georgia Tech. Expect Harris to break out of his slump sooner or later; he is a career .285 hitter with some pop in his bat.

Some other notables include first baseman Brent Lovell, who hit a three-run homer in EKU’s 9-6 win over Georgia Tech last Saturday. Caleb Upshaw (.308) and Kendal Ewell (.300) are coming off solid weekends at the plate against a ranked Georgia Tech team. Logan Thompson is another player still coming off a stellar 2020 campaign, batting .362 with seven doubles last season.

EKU will start Brennan Kelly on the mound today, who made four weekend starts in 2020 for the Colonels. Kelly was 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA last season, and was credited with Saturday’s win against the Yellow Jackets (2.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 K).

Western Illinois Breakdown

As a team, the Leathernecks batted under the Mendoza line with a .195 average. Leading hitter Trenton Bauer (.286 batting, three runs in ’20) does return though, giving Western Illinois a veteran hitter with some power to challenge Louisville. Kevin Raisbeck (.271), Chase VanDerGinst (.368), and Alex Dorethy (.208, three home runs, seven RBI) also return as leading contributors at the plate.

Bauer, along with pitcher Austin Edwards (3.52 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), were named as Summit League players to watch in 2021. The Leathernecks also struggled on the mound last season, having an ERA of 10.56 and allowing .327 batting before the season was canceled. Western Illinois does return Jace Warkentien, who made four starts last season and was tabbed as a starter against Central Arkansas before the series was canceled. Expect Warkentien, Brett Sears, and Chandler Fochs to get the weekend starts for Western Illinois, if the lineup from last week is any indication.

How to Watch / Listen:

Today’s game versus Eastern Kentucky is scheduled for a 3 p.m. (ET) start. The game can be heard on 1450 AM and viewed on ACC Network Extra (via WatchESPN app), with free admission and limited capacity seating.

The weekend series against Western Illinois starts at 3 p.m. ET on Friday, with Saturday and Sunday’s games both starting at 1 p.m. ET. Friday’s game can also be heard on 1450 AM, with Saturday and Sunday available on 93.9 The Ville. All three games will also air on ACC Network Extra.

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