Louisville’s season didn’t end as well as they would have liked. Just two games into the 2013 Big East tournament, and the Cardinals found themselves ousted by UConn. Though losing their opportunity at a national seed in the NCAA tournament, the Cardinals were selected to host the regional at Jim Patterson Stadium.
The theme in this four-team field? Pitching. Each team comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, each squad boasts some talented arms, making this the regional tournament with arguably the deepest pitching pool.
#1 Louisville Cardinals
Before their stunning exit from the Big East tournament, Louisville was on some kind of roll. Winners of 16 straight, the Cardinals had cruised their way to an overall record of 46-12 (20-4 in the Big East). They didn’t have a particularly daunting slate of games in the regular season, but Louisville excelled their way through opponents, carrying a team slash line of .293 / .384 / .404. The Cardinals’ offense was led by junior infielder Ty Young. Young was force at the plate, leading the Cardinals in hits, runs batted in, and batting average. In fact, his line by season’s end looked like this: .357 / .441 / .546. That .546 slugging mark was evidenced by Young’s team leading 13 doubles, seven triples, and his four homers (second to Coco Johnson’s six). As potent as Louisville’s offense is, it’s their rotation, touted as among the nation’s best, that paces them. In Jeff Thompson (10-1, 2.09 ERA), Chad Green (9-3, 2.09 ERA), and Dace Kime (5-1, 3.08 ERA), the Cardinals have the kind of pitching force that can challenge just about any offense. Though each of the above mentioned pitchers is talented, it’s Thompson who sports the most gaudy numbers. In his fourteen starts in 2013, Thompson managed to hold opponents to a .174 batting average, while striking out a whopping 97.
#2 Miami Hurricanes
The Miami Hurricanes come into this postseason with more than just a #2 seed. With their selection to the Louisville Regional, the Hurricanes have now made it to the postseason for their 41st straight year, a collegiate baseball record. As far as their opponents go, it’s a tale of match-ups for Miami. The Hurricanes have a convincing 13-0 series advantage over #4 seed Bowling Green. #1 seed Louisville has beaten the Hurricanes on two of their three meetings in the regular season, while Miami holds a 4-3 record over #3 seed Oklahoma State. Miami’s season fared better outside of the ACC. Their overall record on the 2013 season stands at 36-23. At home, Miami was nearly unbeatables, amassing a 27-10 mark. Games away from Coral Gables were a different story, with the Hurricanes going 8-11 on away games. That may have had something to do with their conference record of 14-16. The team doesn’t hold any eye-opening offensive numbers, with the team slash line at .260 / .353 / .332. To be taken into consideration is the fact that the ACC boasted some quality pitching in the likes of North Carolina (2.58 ERA), Florida State (2.80), and Virginia (3.14). As strong as the ACC was in its pitching, Miami claimed some of its own talent on the mount. Bryan Radziewski was the team’s saving grace this year. His 9-2 record on the season was accompanied by a sterling 1.49 ERA. In his last start before this weekend’s regionals kick off, Radziewski threw eight spectacular innings of shutout ball against Clemson, helping his team to a 7-0 win. The Hurricanes also have in their employ Chris Diaz, another high caliber starter whose 1.75 ERA (102.2 innings total) made his record of 5-6 seem like a case of bad luck.
#3 Oklahoma State Cowboys
When OSU decided to hire Josh Holliday as its new head coach last summer, the Cowboys’ new skipper decided to revamp his coaching staff. One of the key, and perhaps most crucial, addition was that of Rob Walton as pitching coach. Walton came into his new position with a sparkling resume. In his fourteen years of head coaching duties at his previous employ, Oral Roberts, Walton helped produce 16 All Americans and 12 conference pitchers of the year. Walton even coached the USA Baseball National Team, leading them to the FISU gold medal back in 2008. That resume has translated itself into one of the best pitching staffs in collegiate baseball. The Cowboys’ pitchers claim a 2.93 team ERA in 2013, headed by the talented arm of Jason Hursh. Hursh is OSU’s premiere pitching talent, a touted prospect whose heater maxes out at 98 and hasn’t dipped below 93. Combine that with some solid secondary pitches, a 6-4 record, and 2.65 ERA, and you’ve got a dangerous mound-presence for OSU (39-17 overall, 13-10 in Big 12). Tyler Nurdin is another talented arm on this Cowboys squad. His 13 starts (two less than Hursh) resulted in a 4-3 record and 1.83 ERA, with the lefty striking out 64 and walking 22 in 78.2 innings. The OSU bats don’t quite jump out at you with their slash line (.285 / .377 / .406), but they hold some considerable power potential in Zach Fish (7 homers, 103 total bases) and Robbie Rae (5 homer, .424 SLG).
#4 Bowling Green Falcons
Bowling Green’s season was a tale of two halves. The first half saw the Falcons stumble out of the gates, quickly falling below .500 to start their season. The second saw Bowling Green battling in the MAC conference tournament for their first NCAA postseason appearance since 1999. In their five tournament games, the Falcons showed some stellar pitching. Two of those match-ups involved complete games from Bowling Green pitchers and two others were shutouts. By tournament’s end, their record stood at 4-1 and the Falcons had played their way into collegiate baseball’s postseason. The pitching staff for Bowling Green was solid all year, boasting arms such as Mike Frank (5-5, 3.61 ERA) and Cody Apthorpe (5-4, 3.50 ERA). Perhaps the team’s most versatile pitcher, and consequently a veritable X factor, is relief pitcher Nick Bruns (6-2, 2.32 ERA, 6 saves). When the Falcons started their conference tournament with a four run deficit in game 1, Bruns combined with Ethan McKenney (5IP, 1H) in relief to collect the comeback win for Bowling Green. Bruns also threw a complete game shutout against Ball State, the win that clinched a regional appearance for the Falcons. After his stellar performances in the conference tournament, Bruns received tournament MVP honors to finish off his season. The Falcons’ offense is headed by juniors TJ Losby (6 homers, 37 RBI, .444 SLG) and Jeremy Shay (5 homers, 37 RBI, .514 SLG).