Louisville Baseball Game Notes
Preview by Adam Pruiett, UofLsports.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A BIG EAST series is nothing to make a fuss about for Stewart Ijames. After all, this season marks his fifth session of conference contests. But it's not necessarily that extensive familiarity with his league foes that keeps Louisville's first baseman/outfielder off red alert.
"People want to try to put more pressure on themselves just because it is conference," he said. "You have to treat it like every other game."
No. 15 Louisville (18-7, 3-0 BIG EAST) heeded those words in its first BIG EAST series, which resulted in a sweep of visiting Cincinnati. The Cardinals will look to play with the same calm and focus when Villanova (14-12, 1-2) arrives at Jim Patterson Stadium this weekend for a three-game set. The teams will meet at 6 p.m., ET on Friday and at 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
Louisville will lean on junior right-hander Justin Amlung (Louisville, Ky./St. Xavier HS), sophomore right-hander Jeff Thompson (Greenville, Ind./Floyd Central HS) and senior right-hander Travis Tingle (Louisville, Ky./Cleveland State CC) for another dependable weekend on the mound. The trio has combined to go 13-3 thus far, with Thompson accumulating a 5-0 record and Amlung and Tingle winning four games apiece. Amlung has the best ERA (2.76) and most strikeouts (40) among the threesome.
"We've had some great outings," said senior closer Derek Self (Cave City, Ky./Caverna HS), who leads Louisville with six saves. "We want to throw up as many zeroes as possible; that's our focus this year. We don't want to give up that big inning that we have a little bit in the past."
Getting that big inning has been a major component of Louisville's offense. The Cardinals were quiet at the plate Tuesday in suffering a 2-1 loss at Purdue that snapped their seven-game winning streak, but that was one of the few times this year where Louisville's attack didn't post a cluster of runs. The Cardinals are averaging 7.4 runs per game and hitting .324 as a team.
"Our pitching has to keep doing what they're doing, our defense has to show out from the first pitch to the last out," said junior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC). "Hitting kind of takes care of itself. We have to keep going through the lineup and try to make something happen in every inning."
Trying to keep Louisville's offense under wraps for Villanova will be left-hander Kyle Helisek (2-2, 5.40 ERA), right-hander Pat Young (3-3, 4.22) and right-hander Stephen Ostapeck (2-0, 4.35). Ostapeck is the reigning BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week, an honor he's received twice already this season. He tossed a three-hit shutout in an 8-0 win Saturday over St. John's.
Villanova's offense has been efficient, plating 6.5 runs per game with a team average of .310. The Wildcats' lineup is led by Tyler Sciacca, who is hitting .451 with 25 RBI. Matt Fleishman tops the Wildcats with four homers and his average is .412.
Like Louisville, Villanova is also looking to recover from a mid-week setback. The Wildcats fell 11-4 to Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Villanova lost its opening series to St. John's, with the 8-0 victory being accompanied by losses of 8-4 and 10-4.
After going 14-13 in league play last year, Louisville is off to a promising start this go-around. Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell would like to see the rejuvenation continue this weekend.
"How you represent your league and where you finish in your league says a lot about your program," he said.