Around the Bases: Morehead State & Georgia Tech

Now 6-1 through the first two weeks of the 2021 season, Louisville baseball is about to begin conference play and go for its fifth ACC regular season title since joining the conference.

Last week, Louisville pulled out a 6-2 win over Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday (photo gallery here). Though they dropped the series opener to Western Illinois on Friday (3-8), they took the series by winning both ends of their Saturday doubleheader (4-1 & 9-4 for games one and two, respectively).

This week, Louisville wraps up its eight-game homestand to open the season with a midweek clash against Morehead State. They’ll then have their first road series of the season, traveling to Atlanta to face a Georgia Tech club ranked as high as tenth in the Perfect Game poll.

The Polls

Despite losing the series opener to Western Illinois, Louisville still made some climbs in the six major college baseball polls. This includes being ranked #1 in Perfect Game’s Top 25, the third time that Louisville has claimed #1 in any poll in the last five seasons (2017 & 2020, though it is worth noting that 2020’s #1 rankings were in preseason polls).

Louisville did fall one spot in the D1Baseball.com poll to #5, the lone non-SEC team in the top five of that poll, as well as the NCBWA Top 30. Their biggest leap came in the USA Today / Coaches poll, which saw the Cardinals jump three spots up to #3.

This week, Louisville’s average ranking is 3.3, as Louisville enters this week’s batch of games a consensus top five team.

Player Stats & Trends

Louisville has historically been a great baserunning team under head coach Dan McDonnell, and they’ve continued that trend to start 2021. The Cardinals currently lead Division I baseball in stolen bases (25), with Levi Usher (7-for-7) and Henry Davis (5-for-5) among the team leaders in that category. They are also tied for 15th in D-I in team ERA (2.00; second in the ACC), and fifth in the ACC in batting average (.274).

Davis (.409), along with Cameron Masterman (.476), are the only qualifying Louisville batters to average over .300 at the plate (min. two plate apperances per game, and 75% of all games played). Davis has recorded a hit in each of the first seven games, and has a nine-game hitting streak dating back to March 10th, 2020. Masterman shook off an 0-for-3 outing against Eastern Kentucky to hit .571 (4-for-7) against Western Illinois last weekend.

Christian Knapczyk made his first start at shortshop in game one of the Saturday doubleheader versus Western Illinois, going 1-for-3 and making some nice defensive plays. Jack Payton also got his first start at catcher for game two and also went 1-for-3, adding a walk to his stat line.

Something that I did notice last weekend was that Alex Binelas started both games of Saturday’s doubleheader at first base. I did mention that this was a possibility for some games in my preseason primer, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so early in the season. However, I think this was more out of necessity for Louisville due to them missing 11 players for the weekend series against Western Illinois. I’m still holding firm that Binelas will be the primary starter at third base when everyone is healthy, but this could be something to watch as the season progresses.

Jack Perkins made his first appearance on the mound since the 2019 season last week, and looked fantastic in both showings. Perkins had two shutout innings against Eastern Kentucky with a fastball topping around 96-97 MPH, showing excellent command with some off-speed hovering around the low-80s as well. He also recorded a save on Saturday against Western Illinois, delivering a shutout ninth inning to seal the Louisville victory.

Another reliever that has looked impressive early on is freshman Kaleb Corbett. The Fern Creek alumni recorded the first win of his college career with two shutout innings against Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday, then finished the final 3.1 innings in game two of the Saturday doubleheader with seven strikeouts and no earned runs. Corbett currently leads the team with 11 of Louisville’s 81 strikeouts through the first seven games of the season.

Making his first start on Tuesday was Luke Seed, a highly-touted JUCO lefty out of John A. Logan. Seed had six strikeouts in two shutout innings of work against Eastern Kentucky, making a strong case as the potential midweek starter for Louisville.

Michael Kirian had a unique week on the mound. He closed out Tuesday’s win over Eastern Kentucky with a shutout ninth inning, then made his first start since 2018 and had four shutout innings of work against Western Illinois on Saturday. Adam Elliott followed Kirian with four innings of his own, throwing three strikeouts and allowing just one run on two hits.

Kirian, along with Michael Prosecky (3.2 IP, 3 ER, 7 K on Friday), made their first starts of the 2021 season. Prosecky got the nod for Friday as Glenn Albanese was unavailable for the weekend.

The Opponents

Louisville will host Morehead State to wrap up its eight-game homestand that opened the 2021 season. Morehead State currently sits at 1-5, their lone win coming against Ohio on Friday. Louisville has won 20 straight games against Morehead State dating back to 2001, the longest current streak against any opponent for the Cardinals.

Louisville then travels to face Georgia Tech, who is ranked as high as tenth in the Perfect Game poll (the same one that has Louisville ranked number one this week). Georgia Tech enters the week 6-1, coming off a sweep of NC State in Raleigh. The Yellow Jackets face intracity foe Georgia State on Wednesday before taking on the Cardinals.

Morehead State Breakdown

Morehead State went 5-10 in 2020, and currently sit at 1-5 through the first six games. The Eagles had a rough start to the 2021 season, allowing 12+ runs in each of their first three games (twice against Charlotte, once against Davidson). They’ve since allowed 11 runs in the last three games, but have only scored three runs in the same span.

Jack Gardner (.333 batting, .955 OPS) is one to watch as the most consistent hitter, but the Eagles are currently averaging just .147 at the plate. Peyton Dillingham (.286) could get a start to bolster the offense. Jon Burghardt and Stephen Hill were named as All-Ohio Valley Conference players in the preseason, batting .300 and .294 in 2020, respectively.

On the mound, Morehead State is coming off their first win against Ohio, one that saw the Eagles strike out 18 batters. Grant Herron (2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) has a 16.9 K/9 ratio (strikeouts per nine innings), while Jarrett Miller (.60 WHIP) and David Stich had shutout innings in relief on opening weekend.

Georgia Tech Breakdown

Early returns suggest that Georgia Tech could be one of the top teams in a loaded ACC. The Yellow Jackets are currently second in the ACC in batting average (.302), only behind the team they just swept last weekend (NC State, .311). Georgia Tech also leads the ACC in home runs (11), and second in doubles (20). They’re also seventh in the conference in team ERA (3.43), but did hold the Wolfpack to just nine runs in their three game series.

Georgia Tech does lead in slugging with .520, and have four players with two home runs already through the first two weeks. Kevin Parada (.524), Drew Compton (.440), and Luke Waddell (.375) all have plus-.300 batting averages with two home runs, with Stephen Reid averaging .276. Austin Wilhite is also averaging .320 at the plate.

Something to keep an eye on, though, is that Georgia Tech is 13th in the ACC in fielding percentage (.954). Against a Louisville team that has been excellent at baserunning and making hustle plays so far, that could allow Louisville some opportunities to put runs on the board.

Georgia Tech has benefitted from getting back-to-back stellar outings from Brant Hurter and Sam Crawford. Both are 1-0 with sub-1.00 ERAs, and holding opponents to under .150 at the plate each. Their third starter, Andy Archer, had nine strikeouts in his start against NC State on Saturday. Luke Bartnicki (2.08 ERA, one save) has already made four appearances this season, three of which have been shutouts. Chance Huff hasn’t allowed an earned run in three appearances so far, and Jackson Finley (6.35 ERA) had seven strikeouts in three shutout innings of work against NC State on Saturday.

How to Watch / Listen: 

Today’s game against Morehead State starts at 3 p.m. ET, available on 1450 AM and ACC Network Extra (via WatchESPN app).

Louisville’s road series against Georgia Tech starts on Friday at 4 p.m. ET, also available on ACC Network Extra and 1450 AM. The Cardinals and Yellow Jackets also play on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET (ACC Network Extra / 93.9 The Ville), and wrap it up on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on ACC Network (also on 93.9 The Ville).

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