(Part 3 of a College World Series preview series)
Led by the National Player of the Year and a pitching staff that ranks third nationally with a 2.85 earned run average, Louisville (52-10) has set a school record for victories. The Cardinals are looking to sustain that success in their fourth trip to the College World Series.
In a matchup of two teams that have historically struggled in Omaha, the Cardinals are paired against Texas A&M (41-21) in Game 3 on Sunday at 1 p.m. Louisville is just 1-6 in its three previous CWS appearances, while the Aggies are 2-10 all-time on college baseball's biggest stage.
Thus far, UofL is undefeated in NCAA Tournament play, having mowed down Radford (11-6), Oklahoma (11-1) and Xavier (8-7) in the Louisville Regional, and sweeping Kentucky 5-2, 6-2 in the Louisville Super Regional.
Arguably college baseball's brightest star, Brendan McKay has done it all for the Cardinals. A three-time John Olerud award winner as the nation's best two-way player, McKay has been crowned Player of the Year by D1Baseball, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. The first player taken in Monday's Major League draft, McKay was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays with the No. 4 overall pick.
McKay, the Cardinals' cleanup hitter, has put together a season line of: .343 batting average, .464 on base percentage, .657 slugging percentage, 138 total bases, 17 home runs, one triple, 13 doubles, 56 RBI, 45 walks and 54 runs scored.
With first-team All-American Drew Ellis entrenched in the No. 5 spot, pitching around McKay isn't an enticing option. Drafted 44th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday, the junior third baseman is slashing .367/.457/.729 with 161 total bases, 81 hits, 20 home runs, a triple, 18 doubles, 61 RBI and 55 runs.
Ellis is coming off of a monster Super Regional in which he went 4-for-8 with three dingers and six RBI.
Overall, the Cardinals are batting a collective .289.
Senior center fielder Logan Taylor is hitting .279 from the leadoff slot with 40 RBI, 22 stolen bases and 40 runs. Rounding out the top third of the order, junior catcher Colby Fitch is batting .256 with a .371 on base clip, 11 home runs and 43 RBI, followed by sophomore Devin Mann (.270 batting average, 8 home runs, 43 RBI).
Junior shortstop Devin Hairston (.306-3-51), the Milwaukee Brewers' sixth-round pick, normally bats sixth.
Comprising the lower third of the lineup are senior right fielder Colin Lyman (.287-1-30), sophomore left fielder Josh Stowers (.311/.425/.511, 6-33, 22 steals) and freshman designated hitter Jake Snider (.278-1-11).
Junior right-hander Kade McClure (8-3, 3.43) heads the starting rotation. Selected in the sixth round by the Chicago White Sox, McClure has piled up 102 punchouts while walking 35 and allowing 78 hits through 97 innings.
McKay has been equally effective on the bump, compiling a 10-3 record with a 2.34 ERA while notching a school record 140 strikeouts in 104 innings. The left-hander has held opponents to a .188 batting average in 16 starts.
Freshman left-hander Nick Bennett (5-0, 2.70, 12 starts) has emerged as the Cardinals' No. 3 starter.
UofL's bullpen has been stellar, fashioning a 23-1 record while limiting opposing batters to a .205 batting average.
First-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference junior right-handed closer Lincoln Henzman (3-0, 1.77, 16 saves) has allowed only 20 hits through 35 innings.
Among the Cardinals' other established relievers are sophomore right-hander Sam Bordner (2-0, 0.47, .124 batting average against), sophomore lefty Adam Wolf (6-0, 2.37), senior right-hander Jake Sparger (5-3, 3.86) and freshman left-hander Adam Elliott (2-0, 1.93).