While Louisville could have used a win over 18th ranked St. John's to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume, Villanova's surprising 12-0 romp over the top-seeded Red Storm made the best case scenario of the Cards capturing the Big East's automatic bid much more realistic.
To notch the upset, 'Nova rode a strong effort from starting pitcher Brian Streilein, the only Wildcat hurler who gave Louisville problems over a three-game series in April. St. John's falling into the loser's bracket also means that the Cards will avoid having to face the newly crowned Big East Pitcher of the Year in George Brown. You add in the fact that U of L still has top starters Justin Marks and Zack Pitts fresh and ready to go for today and tomorrow, and the Cards suddenly look like as good a bet as any to take home the tournament title.
On the other side of the bracket, second-seeded Cincinnati rolled over West Virginia 11-5, while host South Florida upset No. 3 Notre Dame 9-3. The tournament is set up so that two groups of four teams play a pair of double elimination tournaments, and the two group winners meet in the championship game. So basically, we don't need to worry about any of the teams on the other side until/unless we win our group.
But no game is more important than the next one, and the likelihood of Louisville still having a season after this week hinges greatly on how they perform this evening. It's the Cards and the Cats for a spot in the group one finals.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (38-19) vs. VILLANOVA WILDCATS (29-26)
Game Time: 5 p.m.
Site: Bright House Field: Clearwater, Fla.
Season Series: Louisville leads 2-1
Dan McDonnell's plan at the beginning of the week was to send sophomore ace Justin Marks (7-1, 2.08 ERA) to the hill in game two, and to my knowledge nothing has changed. Marks has been one of the most effective pitchers in the country over the last month of the regular season, picking up victories in five pf his last six starts, and allowing just seven runs over his last 41.2 innings of work. He was brilliant against the Wildcats when he faced them in April, allowing just four hits and one run while striking out nine over eight innings as Louisville rolled to a 12-1 victory.
Villanova will try to make it two upsets in as many days behind the right arm of senior Jordan Ellis (3-5, 4.95 ERA). Ellis has a lively arm, but control that embarrasses Ebbie Calvin LaLoosh. Over 13 starts and 76 1/3 innings he's walked 47 batters, thrown 14 wild pitches, and plunked seven more hitters. Ellis picked up the loss against Louisville on April 15 when he surrendered nine runs (three earned) on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings. McDonnell loves his teams to be aggressive at the plate, but it might behoove the Cardinals to make the opposing pitcher work a tad bit more than usual this evening.
Probable Starting Lineups
- John Dao (SS), .357
- Josh Richmond (LF), .276
- Justin McClanahan (2B), .356
- Chris Dominguez (3B), .366
- Stewart Ijames (RF), .345
- Jeff Arnold (C), .335
- Andrew Clark (1B), .316
- Derrick Alfonso (DH), .269
- Drew Haynes (CF), .282
- Joe Cotter (CF), .298
- Ryan Arcadia (2B), .222
- Derek Shunk (SS), .372
- Dan Terpak (1B), .278
- James Dolbier (RF), .304
- Wesley Borden (C), .264
- Dain Hall (3B), .282
- Joe Rosati (DH), .260
- Justin Bencsko (3B), .226
The winner of tonight's game will advance to Friday morning's 10 a.m. group one final, and will have two opportunities to earn a spot in the league title game. The loser will be forced into an elimination game with Seton Hall (which knocked top seed St. John's out of the tournament this morning) tomorrow at 4 p.m.