Kennesaw State certainly enters the Louisville Super Regional with some quality arms in the weekend rotation with lefthander Travis Bergen and righthander Jordan HIllyer leading the charge, but Louisville definitely gets the edge in this department.
The Owls are led on the mound by Bergen, who has a 2.39 ERA in 94 innings, along with 75 strikeouts and 14 walks. The big thing about Bergen is that he consistently pounds the zone with his pitches. Bergen will sit anywhere from the mid-80s and up to 89-90 and complements his fastball with a good breaking ball and changeup.
For the Cardinals, the weekend rotation is spearheaded by sophomore righthanded pitcher Kyle Funkhouser. Funkhouser has a premium arm and will be one of the top prospects for next year’s Major League Baseball draft. Funkhouser has a fastball that sits 92-95, touching 96 and even some 97s at times, while he also possesses a very solid slider. Meanwhile, Anthony Kidston isn’t an overpowering pitcher, but possesses good overall stuff. Young starting pitcher Josh Rogers has impressed coach Dan McDonnell and his coaching staff. Rogers missed his final high school season because of Tommy John surgery, and has blossomed as a starter for the Cardinals this season, tallying a 3.63 ERA in 52 innings, along with 47 strikeouts and 12 walks.
We really like what Kennesaw State has in talented and hard-nosed righthanded pitcher Justin McCalvin, but we're giving the nod in this department to the Cardinals, who have a nice mix of power arms (Burdi) to go with precision guys (McGrath).
For Kennesaw State, watch out for righthanded pitcher Justin McCalvin. He has an unorthodox throwing motion, and though he only throws in the upper-80s, he tends to keep hitters off balance. He pounds the strike zone and opposing coaches have been very high on him throughout the week. Also keep an eye on James Connell, who has made 35 appearances and has a 2.14 ERA in 46 1/3 innings.
In the bullpen, the Cardinals have one of the nation’s elite stoppers in imposing righthander Nick Burdi. Burdi sits anywhere from 95-98 with his fastball, and has touched triple digits on the radar gun in the past. He also utilizes a slider, while he showed off a changeup last weekend in the Louisville Regional. The Cards also love the tenacity of two-way star Cole Sturgeon, who has a live arm and a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings, while Kyle McGrath has excellent command of an upper-80s fastball, while also possessing a good 12-6 curveball. McGrath has a 1.42 ERA in 38 innings, along with 39 strikeouts and 11 walks.
I really like what both of these offensive lineups bring to the field in the Louisville Super Regional. Neither team completely overwhelms opposing teams most of the time, but both are very opportunistic and capitalize on key opportunities.
Beginning with Kennesaw State, the Owls have some very dangerous hitters throughout their lineup. It all starts and ends with versatile catcher Max Pentecost, who hits for a consistent batting average, has big-time power, and is more of a threat on the bases than perhaps any other catcher in the country. Opposing coaches also were sky high on Bo Way throughout the week. Way, according to coaches, is the table setter for this club, and the offense goes where he goes. Way enters the weekend with a .358 batting average, two homers and 31 RBIs, while Alex Liquori has a .366 average, a home run and 42 RBIs. Also watch out for Chris McGowan, who’s more than capable of having a huge weekend despite having a batting average in the 270s.
As for the Cardinals, this is a typical Dan McDonnell type of offense. One of the things the Cardinals love to do is put pressure on opposing teams, forcing the action, and making those teams make plays. More often than not, that approach works to the Cardinals’ advantage.
Louisville has another solid lineup entering the NCAA Super Regional action. Outfielder Jeff Gardner is the ringleader of the offense with a .326 average, nine homers and 67 RBIs, and every coach we spoke with this week talked about how much he makes that lineup go. Cole Sturgeon is another quality bat, while Grant Kay (.284/5/35), Zach Lucas (.267/5/44) and Danny Rosenbaum (.302/2/24) are all quality bats to watch. Louisville leadoff hitter Sutton Whiting isn’t an overwhelming presence atop the lineup with just a .215 batting average, but he can wreak havoc on the bases with 36 stolen bases in 42 attempts.
Both of these clubs have some good athletes at key positions, with Louisville getting the overall edge. I really like Louisville's outfield with talented young player Corey Ray, along with Jeff Gardner and hard-nosed two-way star Cole Sturgeon, who made a terrific diving play, and throw to home to throw a Kentucky runner out last weekend. The Cards also have a sure-handed infield with second baseman Zach Lucas and shortstop Sutton Whiting leading the way.
For Kennesaw State, catcher Max Pentecost is the most talented overall player on the field this weekend. In addition to his offensive prowess for the Owls, Pentecost is a terrific overall catcher and provides essential leadership. Spark plug Bo Way has good command of the outfield, while the left side of the infield can be a little testy at times.
“From an offensive standpoint, Kennesaw State can really beat you a variety of ways. They can run, they have some guys who can hit for power, and they really do a nice job of kind of rallying around whatever is happening at the time. They’ll lull you to sleep, then it’s boom, boom and boom. I think the spark plug guy for them is Bo Way. He’s the heart and soul of that offense and is just a blue collar throwback type of guy. Max Pentecost is just so dynamic. I coached against Yasmani Grandal, Buster Posey and Mike Zunino, and he’s right there with those guys. He can really run, he’s got some power with plus bat speed, and he’ll go out there and lay down a drag bunt. Those guys can put up runs in a hurry. Pitching-wise, it was easy to see why scouts like Travis Bergen. Jordan Hillyer has a lot of toughness. Nothing is overpowering about his stuff, but he throws enough strikes and has good feel for the ball on his glove-hand side, along with a good slider. Justin McCalvin could pitch for anyone in the country. His stuff on the back-end of games is very good. He’s got a little swagger and he believes in his three plus pitches. He had one of the best changeups we’ve seen this season. He’s a pretty special pitcher.”
“First and foremost, Louisville is probably as athletic as any team in the country right now. The Cardinals have plus speed and the key to their offense is getting those guys on base and letting things go. They can really scare you once they get on base. Jeff Gardner is one of the best hitters in the country in the middle of the lineup, and the one thing about those guys is that everyone knows Gardner is their guy. With that said, they’ve had different guys in different big situations step up throughout the year. Zach Lucas and others step up and those guys just know how to win. In the field, they’re fast in the outfield, defend the infield and they are an experienced, athletic, club. On the mound, they’ve got some standout power arms and they’ve got a lot of them. They might have the most power arms of anyone in the country. And it’s not just Nick Burdi and Kyle Funkhouser. I just really like their pitching staff and the abundance of power arms at their disposal.”