Who’s the Pack playing?
Mascot: State bird of NC | School Location: Bat Town, KY | Conference: ACC
2023 Record: 20-4 (3-3, 3rd Atlantic) | 2023 RPI Rank: 39
2022 Record: 42-21-1 (18-11-1, 1st Atlantic) | 2022 RPI Rank: 21
2021 Record: 28-22 (16-16, 4th Atlantic) | 2021 RPI Rank: 70
When? Where? How do I watch?
Location: Doak Field at Dail Park (Raleigh, NC)
Game Time(s): Fri, Mar 31 @ 6:00pm | Sat, Apr 1 @ 6:00pm | Sun, Apr 2 @ 12:00pm
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Tell me about this team
Well, what can you say? Dan McDonnell’s Baseball Death Machine is back on the tracks in Louisville after the mediocre 2021 season that saw the program miss an NCAA Regional for just the 2nd time in his 15 full seasons at the helm. Heck, the Cardinals had only missed a Super Regional once between 2013 and 2019, including going to Omaha four times during that stretch.
McDonnell can recruit, he can coach, and the hopes of the demise of the Louisville program under him were apparently unfounded. The greed, I tell you!
For the 2023 edition of Cardinals baseball, the team got off to an absurdly hot 16-1 record before struggling a bit (relatively speaking) to a 5-3 record since conference play started. Granted, two of their conference losses were by one run each at Notre Dame, games in which Louisville led by multiple runs going into the 5th in each, only to falter late. Then again, they are 2-2 in one-run games in the ACC, so their record is about perfectly indicative of the overall team performance there to date.
Louisville’s most impressive performance this season was back in early March when they went down to the Shriners Children’s College Classic and took down Texas A&M, TCU, and Michigan to win the round robin event, including crushing both the Aggies and Wolverines. The team was expected to be good this year, but that was a statement.
From an offensive standpoint, the standout item is the aggressiveness on the bases for this year’s Cardinals team. Historically under McDonnell, Louisville attempts about two stolen bases per game, but this year that has ratcheted up to three per game. In ACC play, they’ve attempted 21 stolen bases in six games, seven more attempts than the next closest teams which have each played nine games. It’ll be interesting to see if this is a long-term trend in McDonnell’s recruiting philosophy to cater to a preferred style of play, or just him taking advantage of the skills on the roster.
The experience of the lineup is also apparent, with six juniors starting. It’s a group that’s played a lot of baseball and doesn’t get rattled easily.
Dominant pitching has been a staple of Louisville’s program under McDonnell, and the prominence of pitchers in the MLB Draft is indicative of that. Since 2010, at least two Cardinals pitchers have been selected in each draft. This year’s team might not have the depth of multiple first rounders like years past, but the team still has a pair of studs bookending the weekend rotation, with another toolsy guy in between. The bullpen runs about seven deep, with control being a fairly common theme outside of LHPs Evan Webster (SR) and Kayden Campbell (FR). Stuff, though, is the central theme of the pitching staff and, as expected, every arm that runs out there has big K abilities.
The defense may not be spectacular, but it’s another fundamentally sound group that won’t beat themselves. A pleasant surprise has been the defensive improvement from C Jack Payton, who is starting to fly up 2023 MLB Draft boards. Unless he falls off a cliff, he’ll make it four straight years with Louisville having a catcher taken in the top five rounds of the draft.
Who’s on the mound for these guys?
Friday: RHP Ryan Hawks (SR)
Saturday: LHP Greg Farone (JR)
Sunday: RHP Carson Liggett (SO)
C Jack Payton (JR) - .416/.500/.719, 9.4 BB%, 21.7 K%, 6-8 SB. Yet another in a growing line of excellent Louisville backstops. Has multiple hits in 13 of 23 games this year. The two knocks on him coming into this year were a lack of home run power (6 HR this year) with the bat and average defense (throw out 4-of-7 attempted base stealers).
LF J.T. Benson (JR) - .357/.493/.625, 16.7 BB%, 19.4 K%, 8-9 SB. Breaking out in his first year as a starter. The bat has cooled off over the last four games, but he’s still finding ways on base (6 BB during that span).
SS Christian Knapczyk (JR) - .333/.477/.448, 10.7 BB%, 7.1 K%, 14-18 SB. Undersized guy who is a total pain in the tail. The two-time 3rd Team All-ACCer plays a solid defense, has good speed, and his hitting approach is fantastic. Doesn’t swing and miss much and plays smart.
1B Ryan McCoy (JR) - .306/.427/.576, 13.6 BB%, 27.2 K%, 3-4 SB. Big 6’5, 225 lbs lefty hitting JUCO transfer. Showed power at the JUCO level, but didn’t over two summers in the MLB Draft League; however, the power is there this year.
RHP Ryan Hawks (SR) - 4-1, 3.60 ERA, 35.0 IP, 5.6 BB%, 28.5 K%. Converted reliever who is finally being stretched out after missing all of 2021 with an injury. Has gone at least 5.0 innings in all six outings this year, but hasn’t been as sharp of late (4+ ER in each of his last three starts). Doesn’t issue many walks, but will work off the plate.
LHP Greg Farone (JR) - 1-1, 1 SV, 4.38 ERA, 24.2 IP, 14.5 BB%, 34.5 K%. The 6’6, 245 pounder probably could have helped the Cardinals basketball team this year, but baseball seems to be working out well for him. The JUCO transfer has had some control issues of late (11 BB over 12.1 IP over last three starts) that has also led to him leaving the ball out over the plate to get hurt (4 HR over that stretch).
RHP Carson Liggett (SO) - 4-0, 1.46 ERA, 24.2 IP, 7.6 BB%, 26.1 K%. The “little” guy of the starting rotation at an outside linebacker-esque 6’1, 220 lbs. Another converted reliever, he’s in the midst of a breakout second year with Louisville. He’s gone at least 5.0 innings in every start but one (he was forced out of the Dayton game after getting nailed by a comebacker). Hasn’t allowed more than 2 ER in a start this year, and has allowed only 1 HR all season.
LHP Tate Kuehner (SR) - 1-0, 2 SV, 1.04 ERA, 8.2 IP, 8.3 BB%, 33.3 K%. Reliable and experienced arm who has only allowed a single run all season (HR vs TCU). Went 4.0 innings of shutout relief in a 2-1 win at Notre Dame last weekend, displaying his ability to work as either a stopper or a long man out of the pen.
RHP Will Koger (SO) - 2-1, 0 SV, 3.00 ERA, 18.0 IP, 12.7 BB%, 28.2 K%. Multi-inning arm who has yet to appear twice in a series. Control issues are the only thing that hold him back (3 HBP in addition to the walk numbers). Leads the team in relief innings pitched.
LHP Riley Phillips (JR) - 3-0, 0 SV, 5.17 ERA, 15.2 IP, 16.0 BB%, 34.7 K%. High risk, high reward player who the coaching staff keeps running out there. The swing-and-miss stuff is legit and his move from the starting rotation to the bullpen has allowed it to play up, although his control has suffered. Might be an indicator of over-throwing (had just a 7.2 BB% in 58.0 IP last year).
Quick! Fun Facts!
Easter is next Sunday, and I think I’ve hidden enough “fun fact” Easter eggs above... plus, I’m choosing to be a little lazy here.
A series win for NC State would be a turning point in the season, but with the injuries that the Wolfpack are battling coupled with some ineffectiveness from key players, it’s hard to see State taking this one.
Outcome: Louisville takes two of three.