Patience pays off.
There's little question that Blake Tiberi's path to becoming an everyday starter for Louisville baseball lasted a bit longer than the Kentucky native had hoped. Following a stellar career at Holy Cross in Taylor Mill, which saw him earn Northern Kentucky Player of the Year, Tiberi's first year at Louisville was spent watching as a redshirt.
The third baseman saw limited time as a redshirt freshman in 2015, making 22 starts while filling a reserve role behind Zach Lucas. He connected for four home runs and drove in 18 RBI while hitting .261 last spring. The highlights of his first two seasons at U of L came away from campus during while playing in the summer leagues, where he hit over in back-to-back seasons and was named an All-Star starter in the Cape Cod League in 2015.
"Even his freshman year when he wasn't playing, you knew he had a good swing, knew he could hit," said U of L head coach Dan McDonnell. "We sent him off that summer. He had a great summer in the New England league, so he’s always shown that he could hit with the wood bat. With Zach Lucas returning for his senior year, he was behind Zach last year but (we) just tried to give him as many at-bats as we could and he had a lot of good at-bats. He went off to the Cape Cod league and was an All-Star there that summer. Once again, he hits with the wood bat. I’m most proud of how well he’s become defensively. He’s really gotten a lot better."
On Friday, Tiberi made his first NCAA postseason start when the Cardinals faced Western Michigan in the Regional opener for both programs. Despite admitting to some pregame nervousness, Tiberi led the offense, going 2-for-4 at the plate. He connected for a single and scored in the fourth inning and hit his ninth home run of the season in the eighth to plate a pair of insurance runs in Louisville's 6-1 win.
"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have butterflies," said Tiberi. "Honestly I was hoping a ball wouldn’t be hit to me in the first inning. I didn’t know if I was going to make the play but it’s exciting with all of those fans going nuts, but once I got through a full inning of playing defense and getting an at bat under my belt I was real relaxed. So it’s exciting being on this team and being a contributor."
Along with Corey Ray and Devin Hairston, Tiberi has started all 60 games for Louisville this spring. He's hitting .332 and is second on the team with nine home runs and 47 RBI. He's third on the squad with 76 runs scored.
Looking back, Tiberi credits the time learning from others during his first two seasons as a reason for his current success.
"It was a good thing, but it was also tough as well," he explained. "Redshirting, not playing, coming back, and then a spot start here and there. I honestly don't think I would've performed well in the postseasonif I would have had the opportunity because I had a lot of guys ahead of me that had the experience. It was tough not being able to play, but I knew my role. I was one of the few guys that would pinch hit in a big situation so I knew late in the game or in a crucial situation I would have to put together a quality at bat. It's definitely helped me to this point today."
Louisville will continue Regional play on Saturday. The Cardinals are scheduled to face Ohio State at 4p.m.