The Kentucky Wildcats needed to rally from a loss against North Carolina State to win their Regional and face their arch-rivals in the Super Regional. Kentucky had a nice offensive output to beat NC State in its next two games and now have an opportunity to make the College World Series for the first time ever. To do so, they must beat the Louisville Cardinals, a team that has dominated them historically.
This series will be contested from Friday, June 9, 2017 through Sunday, June 11, 2017 at Jim Patterson Stadium in Louisville. If necessary, all three games will take place at noon in this best-of-three series. Friday’s game will be on ESPN2 and Saturday’s game will be on ESPN.
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These teams met twice in the regular season with each side winning at home. In the first meeting Louisville jumped on Zach Thompson early, chasing him after 2 2/3 innings, and held on for the win. The Wildcats bullpen was great on their end, allowing just five baserunners in relief.
When the venue changed to Lexington, it was Kentucky who chased the opposing starter. Shane Hummel gave up five runs in just one-third of an inning and Louisville couldn’t make up the deficit. The Cardinals were able to cut the lead from 11-0 to 11-7, but weren’t able to push it any further.
Louisville had one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball this season. As a team, the Cardinals had a 2.88 ERA and no pitcher had an individual ERA above 5.06.
Brendan McKay was the team’s go-to guy when they needed a win. He had a 9-3 record on the season and was one of the best strikeout pitchers in the country. McKay had a K/9 ratio over 12 and it’s really hard to beat a pitcher that is sitting you down at that rate.
Kentucky is one of the rare teams in college baseball with a four-man rotation. The Wildcats had four different pitchers start at least 12 games this season and it will be interesting to see who gets the call.
Sean Hjelle will certainly get the start on Friday after winning SEC Pitcher of the Year honors. He went 11-3 and was especially strong down the stretch. Hjelle is still working to get his fastball up to its potential, but has been deadly in his sophomore season.
Hitters to Watch
The Cardinals have two guys that can mash in Drew Ellis and McKay. Ellis and McKay each crushed 17 home runs this season and both players have slugging percentages north of .680. Ellis bats right-handed and McKay bats left-handed, meaning that pitchers always have to be worried about one of the two.
Zach Recks, Tristan Pompey, and Evan White have been the best hitters on Kentucky this season. All three are batting at least .360 with an on-base percentage of at least .450 and Pompey and White can hit the ball a mile too.
What to Expect
McKay could be the No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft in a few weeks. It’s rare to see an athlete dominate at the top collegiate levels as both a batter and a pitcher, but McKay has done just that at Louisville.
The series could be very high scoring. These teams are both averaging more than a home run a game and have multiple players that can go deep. The Cardinals have 67 home runs on the season, while the Wildcats have 72 dingers.
This should have one of the more raucous atmospheres with how close these schools are and how much they dislike one another. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see that emotion spill over onto the field in one way or another at some point.
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