See also: Super Regional scoreboard
Kennesaw State (40-22) at Louisville (48-15)
Friday: 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Saturday: 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Sunday: 6 p.m. (ESNP2)
Coach: Mike Sansing
Postseason History: 1st super regional appearance. Seeking 1st trip to Omaha.
Postseason Route: No. 3 seed in Tallahassee Regional. Won in four games, beating Alabama in the final.
(An anonymous coach breaks down the Owls)
“I think they’re one of the most complete teams we played all year. Mike Sansing does a great job, and (pitching coach) Kevin Erminio does a great job with their arms. Their starters are not overpowering, I’m not sure who they’re throwing Friday. They’ve had first-round arms there in the past, but all their guys will be upper 80s guys with some sink and can really pitch. The guys at the back, (James) Connell and McCalvin, are phenomenal: low three-quarter arm slots, will run it up there into the mid to the upper 80s, it’s a tough angle for hitters. They’re very good, they’ve had a lot of success once they get it to those guys.
“Bergen is just a big, physical lefthander, throws three pitches for strikes, and not an overpowering guy, probably 86-89 but does throw his breaking ball and changeup for strikes whenever he wants. Kevin Erminio, their pitching guy, is one of the better coaches in our game, does a great job. They’re going to mix, you can’t just sit fastball in fastball counts. I think that’s how Bergen’s been successful, really pounding the zone, coming at guys. Hillyer just has a heavy ball, tries to sink it. He’ll throw the hard power slider as well, and show you the change. He was an all-conference pitcher in our league. I thought he’d be a really good matchup against Georgia Southern (in regionals), but they got to him pretty early in that game. He’s a veteran guy, very mature, been around the block for a while, pitched on weekends as well. I don’t think he’ll be intimidated, he’ll go out and attack hitters. Gabe Friese is an upper-80s guy, just will come right at you with a three-pitch mix, nothing overpowering. They sink everything and throw strikes.
“Offensively, I really like their lineup, they’ve got a very athletic lineup. Obviously Pentecost is the guy, you just can’t let him beat you. He is as good as billed. He’s a special player, and he’s a great kid—as good a player as he is, he’s equally as good a young man. You just can’t let him beat you. he’s a true five-tool guy because he runs. If you stay back and try to defend him, he’ll drop down a bunt; I’ve got to imagine he’s probably a 6.6 runner, and of course he’s got great bat speed. He’s a special player. I think it happened in the Alabama game, a 2-1 ballgame, first base open, they pitched to Pentecost and he hit a double and tied it up. Sometimes the ego gets to you and you say, ‘We’re just going to attack this kid and see if he can do it.’ So it will be interesting how they attack him. He makes you uncomfortable when he steps in the box. He might have two bunt hits, but he’s the kind of player that if he wants five bunt hits in a weekend, I’ll let him have them, because it’s better than five doubles.
“They’ve got some other guys in their lineup who are pesky, tough outs, really grind out at-bats. and they are playing with unbelievable belief fright now. They probably are the most contagious offensive team that I’ve seen in a while, they can really grind out some good at-bats against you. It’s not always overpowering, a bloop here, a bunt here, a double in the gap, and the next thing you know it’s like, oh my God, here they come. They’re playing with a lot of confidence, but I think they’ve got their work cut out this weekend against all those power arms Louisville has. Kennesaw, being a mid-major, they’ve had some success against Georgia, Georgia Tech—they won’t be intimidated. It’s going to be a fun series. Louisville at home is a good bet, but they did draw one of the hottest teams in college baseball.
“The one thing I would question is they really didn’t play in a big environment at FSU because FSU got eliminated, so the big crowd was not there for Kennesaw’s games. Dan McDonnell wants to run, he takes a lot of pride in that running game. Pentecost is one of the best catch and throw guys in the country. Do their pitchers do a great job holding runners? Not really, but they haven’t had to because he throws so well. How they hold runners against Louisville will be a key matchup. Mac won’t change his style no matter who’s catching. When you play those big schools, that’s what they try to do, put pressure on you. If you can withstand the first couple innings of pressure, your chances get better. Kennesaw will have to withstand those early blows. If they do that, and that game starts to get shorter, obviously they have a greater chance.
“They are good up the middle. Bo Way is a good player for them. He’s not your typical 4-hole hitter from a physical standpoint, not a huge kid, but he can really run and probably hitting over .350 this year. He’s a baseball player. Obviously Simmons is a nice player and can do a lot of different things. I think he’s a better hitter from the left side than the right side. The second baseman, Nixon, is an athletic player who can do a lot of things down in the order. Jacob Bruce hits in their 2-hole, a lefthanded hitter, he’s a nice player. Alex Liquori usually plays right field for them, they usually have a defensive replacement late; he’s scrappy, can grind out at-bats and run. McGowan’s another lefthanded hitter with a little pop in his bat if you’re not careful. They have a good mix of righthanded and lefthanded hitters in their lineup. They make the routine plays for the most part, but they’re very good up the middle. Simmons and Bruce are the catalysts at the top.”
Coach: Dan McDonnell
Postseason History: 4th super regional appearance (2nd straight). Seeking 3rd trip to Omaha (2nd straight).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Louisville Regional. Won in three games, beating Kentucky in the final.
(An anonymous coach breaks down the Cardinals)
“From an offensive standpoint, the short game makes them go. The key for them offensively is to get those guys on base. Then obviously Gardner and Kay and those guys in the middle driving them in. The one thing Louisville does a really good job of consistently is they take advantage of everything you give them. If you give them something, they’re going to capitalize on it. I believe that is the difference between a good and a great team, and they are a great team. And that’s where their speed comes into play. If you walk them, they’re going to take advantage because of their speed. The key is to get a Kay, a Sturgeon, a Whiting on base and running a little bit.
“Jeff Gardner’s one of the best players in the country, no question. Because of the success that he’s had, and deservingly so, he’s the guy in a big situation that they want up, and a guy you don’t want to beat you. A veteran player with a tremendous approach at the plate, and he’s a patient guy. He’s a very patient, smart hitter. He doesn’t walk a tremendous amount, he doesn’t strike out a ton. To me, without question, he is one of the best players in the country.
“Sturgeon is a ballplayer, in every aspect of it. Another lefthanded hitter for them, a senior out there, obviously can steal some bases, can run, put some pressure on you. He’s a spark plug for those guys in so many different ways, and has a great arm on the mound. Whiting, when you look at Louisville, there’s a lot of veteran players on that team. They understand how to be successful, don’t be fooled just because he’s not hitting .300—he’s a good hitter, he can drag/push, use the whole field, and once he gets on base, he’s stealing. And he’s got a lot of walks, tough to pitch to. He understands his role as a player.
“Louisville plays like the team they are: a veteran, experienced team who has been in the postseason, has played in close games. Every single player in that lineup exudes that level of poise, no matter what their role is. Throughout the course of the year, they have had different guys perform in clutch situations. Kay has gotten big hits for them, Lucas has gotten bit hits for them. And when you look at their numbers, they don’t strike out a lot, so that is an approach. That tells you they all understand their roles and do a good job with it. One of the keys offensively for them is to get those guys on base at the top of the lineup, and as a team offensively they feel very confident they have enough players who have proven they can hit in big situations when needed.
“I think their defense overall is outstanding. I think it starts with their outfield, I think their outfield is fast and athletic. Up the middle they’re very strong, make all the routine plays on the infield. But their outfield is very athletic.
“Funkhouser, he’s a guy that throughout the year has been low to mid-90s consistently. It all starts with his fastball. He’s got plus velocity, obviously has a three-pitch mix. You’re going to have to work to score runs off him; he’s got swing and miss type stuff. The slider is an out pitch. They certainly have some of the best power arms in the country. From top to bottom, their pitching staff has to be one of the best of any in the country, in terms of power arms. Obviously you’ve got Funkhouser, I guess (Jared) Ruxer’s out. But Sturgeon’s a great arm, obviously Burdi’s a great arm, and some young guys who are great arms and can come at you with fastballs.
“Kidston is an upper-80s guy with a three-pitch mix, has the ability to throw all three pitches for them. Kidston is 86-90, with a big breaking ball and a good changuep. And they do what great pitching staffs do—most of those guys have very good fastballs, they’re all around the strike zone, they’re all around the plate, you’re going to have to earn what you get against them. Their pitching staff is very deep, very talented.
“(Lefthanded reliever Kyle) McGrath has a good arm, about 86-89, right over the top, got a 12-6 curveball. Just a power arm out of the bullpen. Burdi is without question one of the best closers in the country. Everybody knows how hard the fastball has been. Burdi has great stuff, has been up to 100 miles an hour. But the one element of Burdi is he is a tremendous, tremendous competitor. He’s not just a guy with a live arm coming right at you. He understands how to slow the game down when he needs to, and that’s why he has the ability to make big pitches. He’s a fastball-slider guy, works in the upper 90s. He’s one of the best.”