Dan McDonnell has his program just two games away from Omaha, a feat that many doubted would be a possibility in the preseason. Louisville was not ranked in the Top 25 in any of the major polls and they were picked to finish 4th in the ACC Atlantic Division.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but the Cardinals proved the doubters wrong and earned the No. 12 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. They ultimately found themselves with their backs against the wall, losing the 1-0 game to Michigan.
Falling to the losers bracket means quite the uphill battle, especially for a team that at times, has struggled to piece together quality innings from the bullpen. In order to advance, Louisville was required to win three games in two days or their season was over.
Once again, they proved the doubters wrong, taking down Oregon and Michigan, twice, in dramatic fashion, to earn the programs ninth berth in a Super Regional. During Dan McDonnell’s tenure, only one program, Florida State, has appeared in more Super Regionals (10) than the Cards.
Now, the Cardinal Nine are seeking an appearance in the College World Series for the sixth time, but it will not come easy against a stout Aggies team in College Station. Blue Bell Park is one of the more intimidating college venues in the country, especially for opposing pitchers. See for yourself:
Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park - The best college baseball atmosphere in the Lone Star State. 2018 Aggie baseball season on deck. pic.twitter.com/rk3GEBXE56— Ryan Brauninger (@R_Brauninger) February 17, 2018
Texas A&M's Aggie War Hymn in 9th inning of super regional vs. Davidson at Blue Bell Park: pic.twitter.com/4OcMctjcz4— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) June 9, 2017
The “Ball 5” count is about as intimidating as it gets. If an opposing pitcher throws four consecutive balls, they start counting balls until a strike it thrown.
The Aggie faithful (or whatever they call themselves) are going to show up in droves this weekend. Super Regional tickets in College Station were sold out in three minutes. I anticipate the Cards will play in front of nearly 7,000 fans for each game.
Texas A&M Breakdown
As the No. 5 overall seed the in NCAA Tournament and No. 2 Seed in the SEC Tournament, the Aggies (40-18, 19-11 SEC) turned in an impressive season after missing the tournament all together last year.
In Jim Schlossnagle’s first year at the helm (he previously spent 18 seasons at TCU), he quickly turned them into one of the premier teams this season.
Texas A&M has six batters at .298 or above, with Dylan Rock being the most electric bat in the lineup. He boasts a .340 average (third on the team), with 18 home runs and 59 RBI’s, which both lead the team.
Ryan Targac is not far behind in both categories with 14 home runs and 56 RBI.
The Aggies aren’t known for their power, with just 78 home runs on the season, compared to 94 for Louisville. Surprisingly, they strike out at a high rate while they do not draw nearly as many walks or HBP’s as the Cards.
On the mound, Texas A&M will likely start Nathan Dettmer (5-2, 4.67 ERA), Micah Dallas (6-3, 5.38 ERA), and Ryan Prager (1-3, 4.92 ERA). None of these numbers are intimidating, but the Aggies do have a few strong arms out of the bullpen. Getting to the starting pitching this weekend will be key for Louisville in order to advance.
Friday: 8:30 PM (ESPNU) / 93.9 The Ville
Saturday: 3:00 PM (ESPN 2) / 93.9 The Ville
Sunday (if necessary): TBA
Also, the weather do not look ideal this weekend. Yikes.
How Louisville Wins
Score early and often. With a 8-9-1 record on the road this season, the Cards need to find a way to take the fans out of the game. It will come across on TV how crazy this environment is going to be and the Cards will need to keep their composure. The first three innings on Friday night will set the tone for the entire weekend.
Stay Aggressive. Texas A&M has the 169th ranked fielding percentage in the country. The Cards need to (and will) put pressure on their defense to try to speed them up and force them to make mistakes. This will be a key factor and something to keep an eye on.
Ben Bianco. The Cards will need his production to increase. He was in a bit of a funk in the regional, but he plays a major role in the offense in the nine hole. Bianco has the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat. I look for hime to bounce back and contribute in a big way.
Timely hitting. We’ve seen Louisville’s offense disappear at times this season, which can not happen this weekend. The Cards have to take advantage of runners in scoring position and move runners over when appropriate.
Pitching. This will be the deciding factor. Can the pitching staff limit the Aggies offense and maintain a “bend, don’t break” mentality. Louisville will score runs so the bullpen doesn’t have to be flawless, but limiting the big plays is key.
How Louisville Loses
Leaving runners on base. An achilles heel this season, the Cards will have to limit the amount of baserunners that are left stranded.
That “one inning.” From time to time, Louisville has been unable to get off the field, using multiple pitchers to get out of an inning.
Walks. The pitching staff must throw strikes. Texas A&M is going to swing the bat, they do not walk often. Giving them extra base runners is a recipe for disaster.
Letting the fans get into the game. If the Aggies get a lead early, the 12th Man will make the game as miserable as possible for the Cards.
Doesn’t this look better?
Two. More Wins.