Around the Bases: Eastern Kentucky And NC State

Louisville returned home from a 1-3 stint last week, and made as good of a bounce back as one could ask of them. The Cardinals pulled off an 8-3 victory over Murray State last Tuesday, then proceeded to sweep Boston College through the weekend on scores of 7-3, 5-0, and 8-6.

This included two comeback victories for Louisville on Friday and Sunday. The Cardinals trailed on scores of 3-0 and 4-0 after the top of the second inning on Friday and Sunday, respectively, before making comebacks on both days.

Riding a four-game winning streak from last week at Jim Patterson Stadium, Louisville now looks to continue that streak in a four-game roadtrip. U of L begins with a midweek clash against Eastern Kentucky in Richmond, then head to Raleigh to face N.C. State.

The Polls

Going 4-0 last week, Louisville rose in all six of college baseball’s major rankings. UofL made their highest leap in the Baseball America poll, jumping seven spots from 15th to 8th. They are ranked top ten in five of the six major polls, with Collegiate Baseball Newspaper (11th) being the lone exception. Perfect Game and USA Today both hold the highest rank for UofL at #7.

Louisville’s average rank entering this week is 8.3.

Players Stats & Trends

It is only fitting that we start this off with second baseman Cooper Bowman, who has thrived as the leadoff hitter for Louisville as of late. Bowman had a stellar run last week, with three multi-hit games in four games played. He went 7-for-15 (.467) with three home runs (including two against Murray State), one double and seven RBIs against Murray State and Boston College. Louisville’s team batting average is currently .292 entering today’s game, and it has been climbing in large part due to Bowman’s emergence as a consistent hitter at the plate.

Also maintaining their momentum lately is Christian Knapczyk, who continues to thrive as a two-way threat for Louisville at shortstop. Knapczyk has recorded a hit in all nine games played so far, hitting .461 (6-for-13) last week with a double, one triple, and four RBIs. His triple in Sunday’s game also provided the go-ahead runs for Louisville to complete its sweep of Boston College. The freshman is currently averaging .481 on the season with a 1.280 OPS, four doubles, a triple, and eight RBIs.

Knapczyk, along with Henry Davis, are the only two Louisville players that have recorded a hit in every game they’ve played this season. The catcher has recorded a hit in all 15 games played this season, and has a 17-game hitting streak entering Tuesday’s game. Davis currently leads UofL in batting average (.407 among qualified hitters), home runs (four), and RBIs (15).

Levi Usher currently leads the nation in stolen bases, going 15-for-15 in 15 games played this season. Louisville is also tied for first in team stolen bases with 48 entering this week.

Making his return on the mound on Saturday was starter Glenn Albanese, allowing just one hit and one walk in 4.1 innings pitched. Michael Kirian had another solid start on Friday, going five innings with three runs allowed and struck out seven batters. Kirian currently holds a 0.56 ERA, 1.06 WHIP with a 3-0 record, so my assumption is that he’s going to continue to hold down the Friday spot for now. But, Albanese has proven solid in his two weekend starts, going 2-0 with a .96 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, and holding opponents to .161 batting. Expect Albanese to continue as a weekend starter, with Luke Smith still holding down the Sunday spot.

Kaleb Corbett continued his momentum last week with another stellar outing out of the bullpen. The freshman made back-to-back appearances on Saturday and Sunday, and delivered a shutout ninth inning in both of them. Corbett also earned his second save of the season on Sunday, and leads the team in strikeouts (17) and ERA (0.00) as a reliever. If he can continue his red-hot play, seems like the closer spot is his to lose at this point.

Evan Webster bounced back from a rough outing against Georgia Tech to deliver big performances out of the bullpen against Murray State and Boston College. The Ryle alumni pitched two shutout innings against the Racers, and also delivered 3.2 shutout innings on Saturday against the Eagles.

Among relievers, Corbett and Webster have made the most appearances (seven and six, respectively). Corbett still holds a 0.00 ERA with a 0.71 WHIP and two saves, while Webster has a 4.63 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.

Adam Elliott also bounced back with a very solid outing from the bullpen on Friday against Boston College. Elliott delivered four shutout innings in Friday’s win, recording his first save of the 2021 season in the process. The senior has had shutouts in three of his four appearances this season.

The Opponents

Things have not fared much better for Eastern Kentucky since they last played Louisville on February 23rd. The Colonels enter today’s game with a 5-9 record, still yet to record a series win this season. They are, however, 3-2 in their last five games (9-7 win v. East Tennessee, 2-1 win v. Marshall, 11-0 win at Morehead State in seven innings).

N.C. State has also had a rocky start to the season, going 4-6 entering their weekend series against Louisville. NC State has had a tough schedule up to this point, going 1-5 against ranked teams in Georgia Tech and Miami. The Wolfpack had its series against Duke, as well as the midweek game against Coastal Carolina, both canceled due to COVID-19 within its program. Nothing has been announced yet regarding the N.C. State and Louisville series.

EKU Breakdown

For EKU to pull off an upset of Louisville, Caleb Upshaw has to continue his hot streak at the plate. He has been batting .417 in his last six games with three home runs, two doubles, and nine RBIs. He’s currently leading the team in RBIs (15), doubles (five), and home runs (three), and hit 1-for-2 with two walks against Louisville last time.

Santiago Peralta has emerged as of late for EKU, hitting .529 in eight games played this season (all since February 27th).

After starting the season 2-for-20 in his first five games, Cam Ridley has been a steady hand for EKU in the batting order. Ridley has since averaged .452 (14-for-31) with one double, one triple, and four RBIs.

EKU will also have to buck a trend that has plagued the team all season; strikeouts. The Colonels have struck 127 times to just 66 walks so far in 2021, and struck out 12 times against Louisville in their last encounter.

The Colonels are starting Brennan Kelly once again on Tuesday. Kelly went two innings against the Cardinals in their last meeting, allowing two earned runs on two hits. Will Brian (1.00 ERA, .138 batting, three saves) has been a superb reliever and could see some work against Louisville, along with Nick Borek (4.50 ERA; shutouts in last two appearances) and Bryce Travis (2.79 ERA, .176 batting).

NC State Breakdown

Despite the 4-6 start, N.C. State has been very solid offensively. They average .296 at the plate (second in the ACC) and have six qualified hitters averaging over .300.

Luca Tresh could be the one catcher in the ACC that can rival Henry Davis, as he was named to the Buster Posey Award watch list. Tresh has already hit seven home runs in ten games played this season, averaging .400 with one double and 15 RBIs to add.

Austin Murr (.390, five doubles, two HR, eight RBIs) and Jonny Butler (.361, three HR, nine RBIs) have also been extremely consistent at the plate. Louisville did have some struggles with Georgia Tech’s high-powered offense on the road two weeks ago, so it will be interesting to see if they can bounce back and contain the Wolfpack offense this weekend.

Where N.C. State has struggled, though, is in pitching. The Wolfpack are last in the ACC in ERA (6.70), given up 5+ runs in eight out of ten games this year, and allowing .254 hitting at the plate so far. Sam Highfill and Evan Justice are weekend starters that have an ERA over 5.00 (5.17 and 6.94, respectively). Reid Johnston (3.27 ERA, one save, .189 batting) could provide a spark out of the bullpen for NC State, as could Cooper King (2.25 ERA, .143 batting). The third weekend starter spot could go to Matt Willadsen (1-0, 4.72 ERA), who started in NC State’s last game against Miami on March 7th.

How to Watch / Listen

Tuesday’s game against Eastern Kentucky starts at 5 p.m. ET, available on 1450 AM and on ESPN+ (the latter requires a subscription to watch on the app).

The weekend series against N.C. State starts at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday, with start times for Saturday and Sunday set at 2 p.m. and 11:00 a.m. ET, respectively. All three games are available on ACC Network Extra this weekend, with Saturday’s and Sunday’s games also available on 93.9 The Ville (radio for Friday is TBD as of posting).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.