It was the best week yet for the University of Louisville baseball team. The Cardinals split a two game set against traditional power Ole Miss and recorded the program's first-ever ACC series sweep, taking three against visiting Boston College over the weekend.
Here's a look at some of the highlights and the week ahead:
Top 25 / ACC Standings
On the strength of its 4-1 week, Louisville rose in each national top 25 ranking with the exception of the Perfect Game poll, which kept the Cardinals at No.8, the program's highest this week.
Louisville's biggest jump came in the D1Baseball.com poll with a four spot climb to No.11. The Cardinals are also No. 11 in the Baseball American poll and No.13 in the latest USA Today rankings.
Five ACC teams are ranked in each poll, with a pair of others receiving consideration. Here's where the ACC ranks:
Preseason ACC Atlantic favorite Florida State dropped their first league of the season this weekend against Wake Forest, but still won the series to remain at the top of the division. However, this week they have company as Louisville's sweep over Boston College moved the Cardinals into a tie with the Seminoles. The two programs will meet at Jim Patterson Stadium May 8-10 in a series that could decide the ACC Coastal champion.
Florida State will be in the conference marquee match-up this weekend with a visit to Charlottesville, Va., to face Virginia.
Virginia, the preseason favorite to win the ACC, has had a tough start to league play. The Cavaliers, which entered the week ranked second in the nation, were swept by rival Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., over the weekend. The Hokies are tied with Georgia Tech and Miami for the Coastal division race.
Chalk it up to the multiple snow storms or early season jitters, the season-opening starting rotation for Louisville didn't get off to the start that was hoped. Made up of the 2014 Super Regional winning rotation of Kyle Funkhouser, Anthony Kidston and Josh Rogers, the Cardinals weekend starters had high expectations as the season neared.
Funkhouser, who threw for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team during the summer, hasn't been as crisp as usual, Kidston struggled with control, registering eight wild pitches in four starts, and Rogers provided batting practice for opponents in his first two outings.
“It's been up and down,” said U of L pitching coach Roger Williams.
With Rogers improving on the mound and freshman Brendan McKay already performing at a high level, Williams and head coach Dan McDonnell adjusted the rotation during last week's action. Kidston, who entered the season with a 14-1 career record, was called out of the bullpen on Wednesday against Ole Miss, providing the opportunity for McKay to get the his first career start.
“This is the first weekend where we had three quality starts, so it's been a work in progress,” Williams told Cardinal Authority. “We inserted McKay into Anthony's spot, but we're trying to get him going because we need him. Josh started slow, but he's pitched well the last three weekends and Kyle's been a little bit up and down. You'd like to see those guys become more consistent as a group, but hopefully that means that there's room to get better.”
Forced into more action than anticipated due to minor injuries of others in the bullpen, McKay has thrown very well. He entered his first start with a 2-0 record, with four saves, without allowing an earned run in 12 innings of work. It was more of the same on Saturday, as he allowed just three hits, while striking out nine in seven shutout innings to collect his third win.
“McKay's really been locked in,” he said. “Very confident and his stuff is really good. His command has been really good with everything, especially the fastball. He's made it look awful easy at times.”
Kidston may return to the mound as the starter on Tuesday against visiting Purdue.
Zack Burdi Returns
Zack Burdi had an excellent off season. The product of Downer's Grove, Ill., not only claimed the program's Omaha Challenge individual title for a second consecutive year, but he also was commanding on the mound and earned the right to serve as the team's closer.
The plan to bring Burdi back from injury slowly never saw the light of day as the sophomore was called out of the bullpen in the first game of Saturday's double-header facing a one out, bases-loaded situation in a game knotted at 4-4. He immediately ended the threat, allowing no hits in 1.2 innings to pick up an extra inning win.
“I didn't envision putting Zack in with bases loaded like that, but he handled it very well,” said Williams.
He was called out again on Sunday afternoon. With a Boston College player at first and just one out, Burdi used his glove to make a behind the back grab to start a game-ending double play to preserve the series sweeping win.
It has to be more than a coincidence that the first weekend that the Cardinals played error-free ball coincided with the team's first series sweep of the season.
Louisville began the 2015 season with a few more bumps than anticipated and one glaring reason has the been the play in the field. After playing without an error in the season-opening win against Alabama State, the Cardinals went 10 games until they accomplished that again. The fielding struggles continued leading into the weekend, with the team committing 11 errors in their previous five contest before the series against Boston College.
Entering the weekend, Louisville had committed 33 errors in 17 games, averaging nearly two an outing. Even with the stellar defensive play against the Golden Eagles, the Cardinals overall fielding percentage remains near the bottom of the NCAA (247th) and ACC (12th).
Mike White leads offense on Sunday
Making his ninth start, senior outfielder Mike White had his best offensive outing of the young season on Sunday afternoon against Boston College.
He sparked the Cardinals offense on Sunday. His one-out double in the third inning drove in the game's first run and he later scored to give Louisville a 2-0 lead. In the seventh inning, with two out, he connected for a single to right field, stole second and would eventually score to make it a 5-2 advantage.
The Cardinals return to play on Tuesday afternoon, welcoming Purdue to Jim Patterson Stadium. Louisville, which leads the all-time series 8-6, has won three straight against the Boilermakers, including a 3-1 extra innings win in Lafayette, Ind., last spring.
Louisville makes its first ACC road trip this weekend, traveling to South Bend, Ind., for a three game series against Notre Dame. The Cardinals hold a 16-8 all-time lead in a series that dates back to 1922. The Cardinals and the Irish met frequently when both were members of the Big East Conference, with Louisville sweeping the last two series.
The week against competition from the state of Indiana continues into early next week, as the Cardinals travel to Bloomington to visit the Hoosiers next Tuesday. Indiana head coach Chris Lemonis is in first season after serving eight years as an assistant at U of L under Dan McDonnell. Indiana, which returned to the national rankings this week, has won four straight and six of the last seven against the Cardinals.
- Sutton Whiting leads the Cardinals with a .411 average and a .543 on-base percentage, highlighted by a team-high 18 walks. He ranks among the ACC's top ten in batting average, on-base percentage, hits, walks and stolen bases.
- Freshman Devin Hairston continues to lead Louisville in RBI with 19 on the season while making 14 starts and playing in 18 games overall. His 19 RBI is eighth in the ACC.
- Through two weeks of ACC baseball, Whiting is hitting .565 in the six games with five runs scored.
- Zach Lucas leads the Cardinals with eight RBI in six ACC games and is hitting .304 overall in the league.
- Through 20 games, the Louisville bullpen has a 2.05 ERA, 97 strikeouts and a 9-0 record in 79.0 innings pitched.