Louisville entered the season with high hopes and heads into the NCAA postseason as an NCAA Regional host. The Cardinals, typical of a Dan McDonnell-coached team, have an aggressive offensive lineup with veteran Jeff Gardner leading the charge with a .340 batting average, 19 doubles, two triples, nine homers and 66 RBIs, while two-way star Cole Sturgeon is an athletic guy who’s hitting .324 with 18 stolen bases and a 1.89 ERA in 23 innings of work on the mound. Meanwhile, Grant Kay (.286/5/35) both are guys who can wreak havoc with Kay having 21 stolen bases and Whiting, like his namesake, a terror on the bases with 33 stolen bases in 39 attempts this spring … On the mound, the Cardinals have an excellent ace pitcher in righthander Kyle Funkhouser, who sits 94-97 mph with his fastball, along with a big-time slider, while power-armed Jared Ruxer (2.27, 75.1), too, continues to impress with good command and 68 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings of work. Junior righty Nick Burdi is the X-factor at the end of games for the Cardinals with a fastball up to 98-100, along with a dominant 90-plus slider. Burdi has a 0.56 ERA and 14 saves in 32 innings of work.
Kentucky has had success against Louisville this season and is entering the NCAA postseason playing a good brand of baseball after a strong showing in the SEC tournament last week. UK has an offensive lineup that can cause a lot of problems for opposing teams. Two-way star A.J. Reed obviously leads the way at the plate with a .351 batting average, 17 doubles, a triple, 23 homers and 70 RBIs, while Ka’ai Tom is an electric player with a .333 average and 13 stolen bases. Meanwhile, Max Kuhn (.322/8/55) and Micheal Thomas (.310/8/44) are other power threats to watch, while center fielder Austin Cousino has the potential for a strong weekend. Cousino is versatile, is hitting .298 with four homers and 38 RBIs, and has speed on the bases with 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts … As is the case offensively, lefthanded pitcher AJ Reed leads the pitching staff with a 2.10 ERA in 103 innings, while the return of righthanded pitchers Kyle Cody and Chandler Shepherd are huge. Cody has a big-time arm with the ability to get up to 94-95 with his fastball, while Shepherd has a good overall arsenal and a 3.36 ERA in 72 1/3 innings of work. Meanwhile, Spencer Jack, who has an unorthodox delivery, is a talented bullpen arm to watch with a 1.19 ERA in 25 appearances and 37 2/3 innings.
Kansas looked to be in trouble when talented starting pitcher Wes Benjamin went down with an injury about halfway through the season. But instead of having it hold the Jayhawks back, this team only rallied around that on the way to an NCAA postseason appearance. KU has a pair of solid starting pitchers in Frank Duncan (2.46, 109.2 IP) and Robert Kahana (3.05, 82.2 IP), while do-it-all pitcher Jordan Piche has a 4.25 ERA in 78 1/3 innings, along with an 88-91 fastball and good slider. Also watch for talented reliever Stephen Villines, who has appeared in 27 games and has a 1.64 ERA in 44 innings … Offensively, the Jayhawks should matchup well in this NCAA Regional with two-way talent Dakota Smith (.333/2/42) and outfielder Michael Suiter (.327/3/40) leading the way, while Tucker Tharp is a threat with some pop in his bat with six homers in addition to some speed, as evidenced by a team-best 10 stolen bases. Also watch for Connor McKay. McKay’s batting average has dropped significantly since earlier this season, but he’s still a power threat with nine homers.
Kent State might not have the overall depth of teams like Louisville and Kansas, but this absolutely is a dangerous club, especially from a starting pitching standpoint. Freshman lefthanded pitcher Eric Lauer has a big-time arm with a fastball around 92 and solid secondary stuff, while he also possesses a 3.26 ERA in 80 innings, along with 64 strikeouts. Meanwhile, veteran Brian Clark has a 3.78 ERA in 83 1/3 innings and Eric Dorsch is a big-time arm out of the bullpen. Dorsch has appeared in 26 games and has a 3.60 ERA with a fastball up to 94-95 at times with a wipeout slider … Offensively, the Golden Eagles have some familiar faces. For instance, Alex Miklos, who was on the College World Series team a few years ago, is hitting .362 with 17 stolen bases, while Zarley Zalewski (.355/2/40) is an athletic player who can hit the ball to all fields. Also watch for Cody Koch, who’s hitting .330 with legitimate power, seven homers and 56 RBIs.