It was the 'Old Funk' once again for the University of Louisville baseball team.
Senior Kyle Funkhouser, who struggled earlier in the season, started the NCAA Tournament opener for the third time in his career and there wasn't any struggles as the right-hander led the University of Louisville to a victory.
Funkhouser scattered four hits and walked three in eight innings as the Cardinals decked Western Michigan 6-1 in the first-round of the Louisville Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium.
"It was Old Funk again," U of L coach Dan McDonnell said. "We got a great start again on the mound form Kyle."
With his 35th career win, Funkhouser keeps the Cardinals in the winners' bracket of the double elimination tournament. He struck out six batters and threw 108 pitches, still throwing in the mid-90s in the eighth inning.
"We're not far from the Kentucky Derby and if you want your horse to run well, it's down the stretch, and he has been that way for them," Western Michigan coach Billy Gernon said of Funkhouser.
Funkhouser has now won six consecutive starts. He was moved from the role of Friday night starter to the Sunday spot in early April and has lowered his ERA since by nearly a run and a half.
U of L's staff gave him the opening start in the NCAA after he didn't get a start last week in the ACC Tournament.
And Funkhouser came through.
"It's a really great feeling, being able to put the team in that 1-0 vs. 1-0 game," he said. "I'm done for the weekend, so I am a good cheerleader now. It's great to have a good game and be able to set the team up."
Funkhouser walked the first batter of the game on five pitched but then got a double play. He allowed a single in the second inning, but also had that runner erased by a double play.
"I didn't feel great to start," Funkhouser said. "My body felt great but I was having a little trouble with command. I was having trouble with a few strikes in a row. Early I had a couple of good role my way.
"But I felt like I got better later in the game."
Gernon said he felt like his players "chased" some off-speed pitches out of the zone, but noted it was "probably the quality" of the pitches that Funkhuser was throwing that helped out.
"He wasn't real sharp early, wasn't commanding the fastball as well as he liked," McDonnell said. "But one thing about Funk and great starters, you find ways to get off the field. He just competed. You are not always going to have your best stuff, but grind it out and let your defense work. He trusted his defense. He did what we expected, he gave himself a chance to succeed."
It was fitting that Funkhouser got the win after the tough stretch he had earlier in the season.
Funkhouser was selected in the first round of last year's MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but opted to return to school for his senior season. He turned down a hefty contract to return.
But since starting 3-3, Funkhouser has returned to his stellar stuff. Two weeks ago, he walked in U of L's graduation and on Friday night got another huge victory for the Cardinals. He's the school's all-time leader in wins (35), strikeouts (376), innings pitched (380.2) and starts (56) and is now 9-3 this season with a 3.86 ERA.
"It worked out well," McDonnell said.