While most baseball programs in the region continue to take their games on the road due to their home stadiums still unusable due to remaining snow and ice, the University of Louisville was busy hosting five games at Jim Patterson Stadium this past week.
“How privileged we are,” head coach Dan McDonnell said at the start of the busy week. “A lot of people aren't playing in this part of the country and we realize how many people behind the scenes made this happen. For about 10 days, Mike Winkenhofer (Director of Grounds for the University of Louisville) and his staff have been out there working on the field. We're very appreciative and I want our guys to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Week in Review
Louisville entered the week following a difficult weekend series against Arkansas State, allowing a total of 20 runs and losing two of three to the Red Wolves. Returning to the friendly confines of Patterson Stadium, the Cardinals faced a trio of opponents during the week and would win four of the five contests to improve to 7-4 on the season.
Freshman righty Kade McClure pitched fives shutout innings to pick up a win in first collegiate start in the home-opener against Butler on Tuesday. Nick Solak and Corey Ray both enjoyed 3 RBI outings to fuel Louisville's 10-1 victory over the Bears.
Freshman Lincoln Henzman was strong in his first career start on Wednesday against Eastern Kentucky, allowing just one run in 4.2 innings of work and Drew Harrington picked up his second win of the season. Freshman Brendan McKay drove in two runs and also picked up his first career save in the 5-2 win.
The Cardinals played a three game set against Xavier, including a double-header on Saturday afternoon. Despite a solid outing from All-American Kyle Funkhouser on the mound, the Cardinals offense was stymied in the 2-1 weekend opener loss. U of L rebounded in the second game on Saturday as starter Anthony Kidston struck out 10 in 5.2 innings, with Robert Strader fanning four in 2.1 innings to collect his first win of the young season. Louisville claimed the series finale on Sunday behind a 9 strikeout performance from Josh Rogers and another impressive outing by McKay, who drove in a run and picked up his third save of the week in the 2-0 victory.
Rogers Finds His Rhythm
Sophomore Josh Rogers, the Cardinals third weekend starter, would love to forget about his first two starts of the season. The lefty was beat up in his outings against Cal State Fullerton and Arkansas State, giving up 15 hits and 13 earned runs in just 7.1 innings of work. Pitching at home first the first time this season, Rogers appeared to find his rhythm on Sunday afternoon against Xavier.
He more than doubled his strike out total for the season, registering nine in 6.2 innings, while allowing just two hits to pick up his first win of the season.
“I needed that,” he said following Sunday's win. “Looking at my stat line wasn't pretty coming into the game. I hadn't had any quality starts yet.”
Rogers credits a couple “mechanical tweaks” to his approach this week and it appears to have paid off, much to the relief of both player and coach.
“It feels good to put up zeros, so I showed a little emotion today,” said Rogers.
“We needed that, for his sake and for our whole staff,” McDonnell told Cardinal Authority, “Quality weekend for our starting pitchers. Funkhouser, Kidston and Rogers all gave us a chance to win, especially Josh. He needed a good start today before conference play next weekend.”
Freshman Brendan McKay is a unique talent. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound product of Darlington (Pa.) Blackhawk turned down the opportunity to turn professional directly out of high school to further improve his desire to be a standout performer at the plate and on the mound.
The potential to be a difference maker was clearly on display this week. He played in all five games and went 6-for-12, with 4 RBI at the plate. He also appeared as the closer in three contests, allowing just two hits and no runs, while striking out 8 to pick up the save in each.
“There's some star power in there,” said McDonnell. “He seems very poised, he doesn't get to high and doesn't get to low. He seems to just play the game. Trusts his ability to the game and its a special talent.”
McKay, who has played at first base and filled the designated hitter role, has made four starts and is currently hitting .538 for the season. He has made five appearances on the mound and in 9 innings has not allowed a run, while compiling 1-0 record and three saves.
The Cardinals have received production from a number of newcomers during the early stages of the 2015 season. In addition to McKay's play, infielder Devin Hairston has also played a key role in the team's success.
The product of Lexington (Ky.) Tates Creek has appeared in nine games, starting five, and has produced with every opportunity. He's recorded an RBI in each of his starts and has nine on the season, the second highest on the team.
ACC Season Begins
Louisville was scheduled to visit Richmond, Ky on Tuesday to face Eastern Kentucky, but the Colonels home field remains unplayable due to the recent weather and the game has been moved to Patterson Stadium. First pitch on Tuesday is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.
Louisville will host its first-ever ACC baseball contest this weekend as Miami visits for a three game series. Friday's game against the nationally-ranked Hurricanes is scheduled for 3:00 p.m., with the start for Saturday and Sunday set for 1:00 p.m. The two teams last met in the 2013 Louisville Regional, a 6-4 Cardinals victory.