(Part 3 of an eight-part series previewing the College World Series)
As the only holdover from last year's eight-team College World Series field, Louisville is looking for a longer stay in Omaha after going two and out in 2013.
Winners in 23 of their last 27 games, the streaking Cardinals (50-15) are paired against Vanderbilt on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Game 2.
Undefeated in postseason play, the Cardinals defeated Kent State (5-0), Kansas (6-3) and Kentucky (4-1) in the Louisville Regional and swept Kennesaw State 5-3 and 7-4 in the Louisville Super Regional.
Led by first-team All-American closer Nick Burdi, eight Cardinals were selected in the Major League Draft. Burdi (3-1, 0.51, 18 saves) was nabbed by the Minnesota Twins in the second round. To this point, he has allowed four runs (two earned) on 17 hits in 30 appearances. Recording a ridiculous 62 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings, the junior righthander has allowed only one extra base hit while limiting the opposition to a .133 batting average.
Manning the starting rotation are sophomore righthanders Kyle Funkhouser (13-2, 1.73) and Anthony Kidston (9-0, 3.54) and freshman lefthander Josh Rogers (3-3, 3.63).
Funkhouser, who has fanned 117 while racking up a staff-high 114 1/3 innings, is tied for tops in the nation with 13 wins. Kidston has a 14-0 record in 19 career starts.
Batting a collective .287, the Cardinals are second in the nation in stolen bases (132) and fifth in runs scored (413).
Senior left fielder and American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Jeff Gardner (.321, 9 HRs, 68 RBI) is the Cardinals' chief run producer. Drafted by the Washington Nationals in the eighth round, he has a .403 on base percentage and is slugging .538.
Senior center fielder Cole Sturgeon (.331-2-34) has logged 215 career starts. A three-time All-Conference honoree, he is 19-of-24 in the stolen bases department.
Freshman designated hitter Nick Solack (.367-2-24) has turned it on down the stretch. Since being inserted into the starting lineup 11 games ago, he is 16-of-39 (.410) with two homers and 15 RBI.
Despite missing six early-season games with a fractured nose, junior shortstop Sutton Whiting (.212-2-17) has stolen 37 bases in 43 attempts.
Senior third baseman Alex Chittenden (.291-1-30) is a first-team All-AAC selection.