Last-Minute Update: Coach Jim Schlossnagle has announced Nick Lodolo will be TCU’s starter tonight, most likely because of the left-handed heavy lineup that Louisville has.
A couple of old Conference USA rivals are coming together Thursday night, as the Cardinals and Frogs face off in an elimination game in Omaha, each team hoping to extend their stay by at least a few more days.
How to Watch:
7:00 PM | TV: ESPN2 | Radio: 88.7/SiriusXM 84
How They Got Here:
TCU lost their opening game of the CWS, dropping a 3-0 decision to Florida, but bounced back to oust Texas A&M Tuesday night behind Brian Howard. The Cardinals opened with a victory over the Aggies Sunday, but fell to the Gators Tuesday evening.
Jim Schlossnagle has yet to announce a starter, though Louisville coach Dan O’Connell seems to think it will be the lefty, Nick Lodolo, on the mound. Lodolo has pitched just one inning since the Big 12 Tournament, striking out a pair in the eighth in a perfect 1-2-3 frame against the Gators in Omaha. He has looked sharp in simulation games and Schloss is confident in his freshman, should he get the call. The other option is senior Mitchell Traver, the long-tenured righty who has been exceptional in his post-season career, allowing just one run over the course of 26.0 total innings. Personally, I expect Traver to get the call, despite the presence of several strong left-handed bats in the Cards’ lineup.
Louisville will start a lefty, Nick Bennett, who is 5-0 on the season and has led the Cards to a 12-0 record in games he’s started. Bennett sports a 2.70 ERA, has struck out 59 and walked just 13 in 63.1 innings on the year. While he hasn’t gone deep into games, he’s been effective, and has gotten his team off to good starts each time he has taken the mound. The key for the Frogs will be getting to Bennett early - the big, lanky lefty has a fastball in the mid-90’s but has not pitched since the regional round, where the freshman struggled some against Xavier, allowing three runs and seven hits in five innings of work.
Neither team needs to be concerned about a stretched bullpen - with the day off both squads should have a full complement of arms to turn to if needed. The Cards can roll with Sam Bordner (0.43 ERA, 36 Ks in 41.2 innings) and Lincoln Henzman (37 Ks in 36.2 innings, 16 saves) at the back end, while TCU has yet to use closer Durbin Feltman in Omaha, and could turn to Sean Wymer and Cal Coughlin once again. Chuck King, Jake Eissler, Trey Morris, and Haylen Green are all available as well, with Green presenting a good option for a late AB lefty on lefty matchup.
The top of the TCU order has been pretty bad in Omaha, as the combination of Austen Wade, Zach Humphreys, and Evan Skoug have produced just a single hit (Skoug’s double against A&M) while striking out 10 times and drawing just three walks. At some point they have to break through - especially the veterans - and produce. Hopefully tonight will be the night that happens. Cam Warner has had a good week, and needs to continue to see the ball wall. TCU will also benefit from getting speed on the base paths, led by Nolan Brown, who seems to be regaining his form here on the big stage. Nine hole hitter Ryan Merrill continues to shine in his home town, including blasting his sixth home run of the year Tuesday in the win over A&M.
The Cardinals have a balanced and dangerous offense, led by six hitters batting .285 or above. Louisville has hit 70 home runs on the year, with Drew Ellis’ 20 and Brendan McKay’s 17 leading the charge. Speaking of McKay, the top two-way player in the country is one to watch - with a .342 average, 56 runs scored and 56 RBIs, the first round draft pick is one of the most dangerous offensive players in Omaha. Though he had struggled coming into the matchup with Florida, he had two big doubles against the Gators, and could be regaining his form at the wrong time for the Frogs.
Both TCU and UL average over 7.0 runs per game, but don’t expect a shootout - the pitching on both sides should keep scoring chances few and far between. It could come down to an extra base here or there, and these two teams love to run. TCU’s struggles on the base paths have been well documented this week: the Frogs have been thrown out on the base paths multiple times and have been almost too aggressive. They will meet their match in the Cards tonight - Louisville’s 98 stolen bases in 122 chances is a nearly identical success rate to TCU’s 103 in 125. Schloss made note that Traver was a little bit better in holding down the run game, and that may give him the edge in choosing tonight’s starter.
Both of these teams are likely to be thankful to not be facing Florida tonight. Jim Schlossnagle called the Cards the most physically talented team left in Omaha, and he wasn’t blowing smoke. UL has a dangerous offense, the is powerful in the middle and surrounded by guys that know how to get on base. The Frogs have done well against the best hitters in the tournament - minimizing the damage of first rounders Pavin Smith, Adam Haseley, Jake Burger, and more, thus far. But McKay represents a whole new challenge, and ensuring he doesn’t come to the plate with men on base is the key.
While the pitching has been stellar for TCU, the offense has reverted to its early-season struggles, striking out at a far higher rate than expected, while failing to draw the walks and show the patience at the plate that has made them so dangerous all season long. That being said, the talent is there 1-9, and if Barz, Watson, and Skoug start to click, watch out. Here’s hoping tonight is the night they get back on track.
Win by one. Live to play another day.