No. 9 University of Louisville‘s elimination from the NCAA tournament was slightly overshadowed by the draft coverage here at BluGrass Baseball, but now it’s time to finish the season review series with a look at the Big East champion Cardinals. UofL finished the season at 50-14 and one win shy of a NCAA super regional.
Hitter of the year: 2B Ryan Wright — The Cards had plenty of hitters to choose from for this honor, as evidenced by their six offensive draftees, but the award goes to the sophomore second baseman who wasn’t even eligible for the draft. Wright was second on the team in batting (.366) behind senior first baseman Andrew Clark (.370)but played in 11 more games than Clark. He led the team in RBI (80), hits (93) and triples (2) and ranked third in runs scored (61). Wright also stole 10 bases in 11 attempts.
Pitcher of the year: RHP Thomas Royse — The Big East pitcher of the year was a shoe-in for this award as he lead the state in most major pitching categories. Royse, a third-supplemental round pick by the Chicago White Sox, finished the season at 9-1 with a 2.85 ERA and 99 strikeouts compared to 26 walks in 104 and one-third innings pitched. Opponents batted just .257 against Royse on the season.
Season high point: Battling for the Big East Conference regular season title with Connecticut in the season’s final weekend, UofL outscored Notre Dame 23-6 in a series sweep to clinch the title. The Cards all but wrapped up a top eight national seed in the NCAA tournament with the conference championship.
Season low point: The vaunted UofL offense picked the worst time to go cold as the Cards were held scoreless for a season-high 15 consecutive innings in back-to-back losses to Vanderbilt to be eliminated from the NCAA tournament. Even worse, the first loss came against soft-tossing lefty Richie Goodenow, who had made just one previous start for Vanderbilt before pitching a complete-game shutout against UofL.
Micellaneous: The Cards had five batters, Phil Wunderlich (21), Wright (16), Stewart Ijames (14), Clark (13), Adam Duvall (12), reach double digits in home runs…Royse, Neil Holland, Duvall, Wunderlich, Josh Richmond, Clark, Jeff Arnold, Ijames, Dean Kiekhefer and Bob Revesz were each selected in the 2010 draft…Holland was among the country’s best relievers after saving 17 games and going 8-1 with a 2.08 ERA and .160 batting average against…Freshman right-handed starting pitchers Justin Amlung (5-2, 4.27) and Matt Koch (3-0, 3.27) performed admirably down the stretch, setting UofL up well for the 2011 season.
The Kentucky collegiate season came it an end Monday when No. 9 University of Louisville failed to complete two different late comebacks and lost 3-2 on a suicide squeeze from Vanderbilt in the bottom of the tenth inning. The loss ended UofL’s NCAA tournament run just shy of the super regional. The Cards were held scoreless for the first six innings before tieing the game for the first time with a single run in the top of the seventh.
Vanderbilt immediately took the lead back with a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, but UofL sent the game to extra innings when it scored with two outs in the ninth inning. Junior right-handed closer Neil Holland took his first loss of the season in the team’s final game. Junior right-handed pitcher Thomas Royse surrendered eight hits in five and one-third innings but held Vandy to just one run.
Sophomore second baseman Ryan Wright was 2-5 with a run scored, and junior third baseman Phil Wunderlich added two hits of his own. The loss dropped UofL to 1-3 on the season against Vanderbilt and 2-4 against the Southeastern Conference. (Box Score)
No. 9 University of Louisville scored three times in the first inning and didn’t look back en route to a 7-3 win over Vanderbilt in the Cards’ second game of the NCAA tournament. Senior third baseman Phil Wunderlich paced the Cards’ attack with a 2-4 performance. Wunderlich launched his 21st home run of the season, drove in four runs and scored twice. Freshman right-handed pitcher Matt Koch earned the win after allowing just one run on three hits in six innings.
Koch struck out three Commodores and walked just one. Junior right-handed closer Neil Holland allowed one hit in the final three innings to record his 17th save of the season. Holland struck out five and walked one. Sophomore second baseman Ryan Wright was 2-4 with one RBI and one runs scored. Senior first baseman Andrew Clark scored twice in the game. (Box score)
Player of the game: RHP Matt Koch — After spending the first half of the season as little more than an afterthought in the UofL bullpen, freshman Matt Koch has excelled as a weekend starting pitcher since moving up the pitching depth chart. Koch earned the biggest win in his young career with six strong innings Saturday and moved to 3-0 on the season with a 3.27 ERA. Koch has now made six starts on the season.
No. 9 University of Louisville (1) scored 10 unanswered runs in route to an 11-2 win over St. Louis (4) in game one of the NCAA tournament. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Tony Zych earned the win with three and one-third scoreless innings out of the Cards’ bullpen. Zych surrendered just three hits and struck out five while walking none. At the plate UofL was led by senior first baseman Andrew Clark, who was 3-4 with a home run, three RBI and two runs scored.
Five UofL batters tallied at least two hits in the game, and sophomore shortstop Ryan Wright slugged his sixteenth home run of the season. UofL fell behind 2-1 in the fourth inning, but tied the game in the bottom of the fourth on a Josh Richmond sacrifice fly. The Cards then took the lead on an RBI double from freshman designated hitter Zak Wasserman and didn’t look back. (Box Score)
Player of the game: RHP Tony Zych — The sophomore pitcher began the season as a weekend starter for UofL but moved to the bullpen after a lackluster performance. Zych has had his ups and downs in the pen, but Friday’s performance is certainly a season highlight as he shut the St. Louis offense down long enough for UofL to take a commanding lead. He allowed no runs on three hits and struck out five while walking none in three and one-third innings.
A few important notes to pass along on a Wednesday evening:
Western Kentucky University senior right-handed pitcher Matt Ridings will undergo Tommy John surgery Wednesday, clouding his draft prospects. Ridings confirmed the operation via Twitter to BluGrass Baseball, and we wish him all the best in his recovery as he works toward a professional career.
No. 9 University of Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell was suspended for three games for his argument with an umpire in the Big East Conference tournament. McDonnell will miss the first three games of the NCAA tournament, Aaron Fitt of Baseball America reports.
Baseball America is releasing its state-by-state draft previews, and now Jim Callis has published the Kentucky preview. The piece should be mandatory reading for Kentucky baseball fans and is worth the price of the BA subscription. Callis ranks 25 state draft prospects and includes five high schoolers among a plethora of college bats.
No. 9 University of Louisville was rewarded for its strong regular season with the No. 7 overall seed in the NCAA baseball tournament. UofL will host a NCAA regional with Vanderbilt (2), Illinois St. (3) and St. Louis (4). The Cards will face St. Louis in the first game of the regional Friday with game time to be determined. The Cards faced just one of its three regional opponents this season. Vanderbilt handed UofL one of its 12 losses with a 11-10, 17-inning win on May 11.
Meanwhile the University of Kentucky was omitted from the field of 64 and was the only team not included in the field that was projected to make the tournament by the three most prominent national college baseball writers. “Our committee felt strongly about a number of teams that had a better body of work or more momentum upward,” Division I Baseball Committee Chairman Tim Weiser said of UK. The Cats were ranked No. 33 in the latest RPI and boasted 16 wins against the RPI top 50, but missed the Southeastern Conference tournament after losing two of three to last-place Georgia in the final series of the season.
If you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks, you would have noticed I’m down on the University of Kentucky‘s hopes for a NCAA tournament at-large bid. After giving an interview to my friend James Pennington of Kentucky Sports Radio earlier this week, where I expressed those sentiments, I was provided with some information making the case for UK’s tourney hopes. While I’m still not sold, and the conference tournaments haven’t gone as well as UK could have hoped, here’s the case for including the Cats in the tournament:
UK ended the regular season with the No. 29 RBI. Only three teams with an RPI less than 30 have been left out of the NCAA tournament since 2007.
One of those teams was fellow Southeastern Conference school Auburn in 2009 (No. 28), but the Tigers were the 10th ranked team in the SEC.
UK played the seventh toughest schedule in the country.
The Cats have 9 wins over the RPI top 15.
Kentucky has 16 wins over the RPI top 50, which was eighth most in the country at the end of the regular season.
The ninth-place SEC team has received an at-large bid in two of the last four seasons.
Points against UK:
No matter how you spin it, losing two-of-three to last-place Georgia in the final series of the season when the Cats had a chance to control their own destiny is just ugly.
While the Cats have faced a plethora of injuries in their starting rotation, which is fully healthy now, it’s not like those pitchers have performed very well when healthy.
UK will get no bonus points for losing 2009 first-round pick James Paxton. Paxton never played for this team and certainly won’t suit up in the NCAA tournament, so UK without Paxton is what it is.
Southern Mississippi won the Conference USA tournament, taking away one at-large bid. Unfavorable outcomes in the Missouri Valley, Southland and the Atlantic Sun tournaments could take away other at-large positions. If St. Johns wins the Big East tournament today over UCONN, that’s one more bid off the board.
Kendall Rogers of Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com had UK in his last NCAA projection before the conference tournaments, but he picked the Cats as the third-to-last team in the field. The conference tournaments simply haven’t gone as well as UK hoped, so selection Monday will be anything but comfortable for coach Gary Henderson and his team. The good news is unlike some conference tournament teams, UK hasn’t done anything this week to hurt its chances.
After losing Friday, Northern Kentucky University won a 15-12, extra-innings thriller against Indianapolis Saturday to stay alive in the NCAA Division II tournament, but lost 6-5 to top-seed Southern Indiana in the second game of the day. The loss eliminated the Norse from the double-elimination regional and ended NKU’s season.
Great Lakes Valley Conference player of the year Jason Crisper was 5-10 with a home run, four runs scored and two RBI in the two Saturday games. The Norse plated three runs in the top of the 10th inning to earn the victory in game one. NKU fell down 6-2 early in game two and scored three runs over the final two innings, but its rally fell short. NKU finished its season at 43-17 with a 24-6 conference record and a 21-3 record at home.
Northern Kentucky University rode an outstanding performance from Great Lakes Valley Conference pitcher of the year Kevin Jordan to a 2-1 win over Wayne State in its first-round game of the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Tournament. Jordan, a senior left-handed pitcher, hurled a complete game, surrendered one unearned run on six hits and struck out struck out five while walking none.
The Norse scored one run in the first inning on a RBI single from senior first baseman Evan McDole and plated its second run in the sixth on a RBI single from junior third baseman Shannon McCormick. NKU tallied just four hits in the game, though McDole was 1-1 with a RBI, run scored and a walk. The win improved Jordan to 8-3 on the season. The Norse will face No. 2 seed Grand Valley State at 8 p.m. Friday. (Box Score)
In the first three stretch drive posts we looked at individual Kentucky schools with chances at an at large bid. The state’s three Ohio Valley Conference schools don’t have that luxury as each will need to win the OVC tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Murray State University has the inside track at the bid as it sits in first place in the regular season standings. The Breds are tied with Tennessee Tech in the loss column, but have two more wins, giving them a one game lead for the regular season championship.
Only the top six regular season OVC teams qualify for the postseason conference tournament, and Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State University are battling with UT Martin and Eastern Illinois for the final two tournament berths. EKU sits in the sixth and final spot, while Morehead is seventh in the standings and would miss the tournament if the season ended today. The Eagles actually have the fifth fewest losses in the league but have played three fewer conference games after losing an entire series to weather.
Murray St. and Morehead face off this weekend. A series win by the Breds would likely knock the Eagles out of contention for a tournament berth, but would place Murray St. in the driver’s seat for the regular season title. EKU hosts fourth-place Jacksonville State this weekend and last-place SIU Edwardsville in the final series of the season. Two series wins would likely put the Colonels in the OVC tournament. Morehead State hosts Jacksonville St. next week, and Murray St. will go head-to-head with second-place Tennessee Tech for the regular season title in the season’s final series. Tech faces eighth-place UT Martin this weekend.
(You can see the Rivals.com field of 64 projection here and the Baseball America stock report here.)