BOZICH | Louisville's NCAA baseball opponent mediocre, injured -- and dangerous
Louisville's opening NCAA baseball tournament opponent is without its best pitcher and strikes out too much. But Radford also represents the Big South, which won the tournament last season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville begins its annual push toward the College World Series Friday at 6 p.m. in Jim Patterson Stadium. The Cardinals, seeded first, play the Radford Highlanders, seeded fourth, in the NCAA Regional.
No need to check Baseball Prospectus for a scouting report. I can handle it in a paragraph:
Radford strikes out too much. Highlanders coach Joe Raccuia said that twice Thursday. Their top pitcher suffered what Raccuia called “a devastating injury” last weekend. They’ve lost three more games than they have won.
Another thing. Better make it two paragraphs. Radford is dangerous.
Let me explain why the NCAA baseball tournament delivers more heartburn than the basketball tournament or football playoffs.
There has not been a Coastal Carolina nor Radford sighting in the men’s basketball Final Four. Or, for the record, the Sweet Sixteen.
The Big South Conference has pushed 21 teams into the NCAA Basketball Tournament. None has won more than a single game.
Coastal Carolina in the college football playoff? Sorry to waste your time bringing it up. Did you think Nick Saban would allow that?
Football and basketball are from Mars. Baseball always keeps Division I programs grounded on Earth. Parity lives in baseball.
Check the pedigree of the 2016 NCAA baseball champion.
The winner was Coastal Carolina, which competed in the Big South Conference before upgrading to the Sun Belt this season.
You know where I’m taking this. Guess which conference Radford represents?
“Any time you see an underdog pull out a victory, especially the way (Coastal Carolina) did it, it’s definitely a confidence booster,” said Danny Hrbek, Radford’s scheduled starting pitcher against U of L.
“Anybody can win. It’s baseball. That’s the best part about this sport.”
No sport throws high and tight in the post-season like baseball. The bizarre results did not start or stop with Coastal Carolina last season.
Remember, Louisville is one seed, Radford the four. There are 16 games one/four matchups in the tournament every year.
You know where I’m taking this. Guess how many four seeds toppled ones in the opening weekend last season?
The answer is 3 of 16. I wouldn’t call the four beating the one Do You Believe in Miracles material.
One top seed losing its opener can be dismissed as a fluke. Two would be strange. Three is a legitimate flashing light.
The one seeds that lost in 2016 were legitimate baseball heavyweights like South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
The Commodores and Rebels did not recover, failing to survive their regionals, despite home field advantage.
I must also say this: Radford is not Coastal Carolina. Coastal was a two-seed, not a four before the Chanticleers began their powerful run to Omaha by beating North Carolina State, an Atlantic Coast Conference team, twice in Raleigh.
Did I mention that Radford is not Coastal Carolina?
Radford lost more games (13) than it won (11) in the Big South this season. The Highlanders failed to defeat a Top 50 RPI program. They’re No. 156 in the RPI, 150 spots behind Louisville. They strike out too much. Ask Raccuia.
“To us the challenge is beating any team, to be honest with you,” said Raccuia. “When you’re 27-30, it’s not like we’ve beaten a lot of clubs.”
U of L coach Dan McDonnell said he will start his No. 2 pitcher (Cade McClure) not ace Brendan McKay against Radford – and he’s doing the right thing.
Radford is not a thunderous offensive team. The Highlanders averaged 5.5 runs per game. Louisville averaged 7.2. Radford allowed more runs than it scored.
No offense, but if you’re facing a team with less offense, save your best for Saturday.
“That’s up to (McDonnell),” Raccuia said. “He obviously has pitching depth.
“The goal is to win the tournament. They feel the best way to win the tournament is to maybe pitch off a bit and go with McKay in game two, which is fine.”
“To be honest with you, any of their arms are going to be top notch,” Hrbek said. “Whether it’s McKay or their other guys, we’ve got to stick to our game plan and we’ll be OK.”
Here is something that was not supposed to be part of the game plan: Radford will also start its No. 2 pitcher (Hrbek) instead of its ace (Zack Ridgely).
No gamesmanship here. Ridgely hurt his arm at the Big South Tournament last week. He is unavailable.
“That’s pretty devastating to us, obviously, because I think (Ridgely) can really pitch in any conference,” Raccuia said. “Now we’re pitching off a little bit.”
So remember: Radford is without its best pitcher. The Highlanders strike out too much. They’ve lost more games this season that Louisville has lost the last two seasons.
But Radford is dangerous – and representing the conference that won the NCAA baseball championship last season.
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