If No. 7 Clemson hopes to be one of the eight national teams when the NCAA Tournament Field is announced at the end of this month than it desperately needs to win this weekend’s series against No. 2 Louisville.
The Cardinals come into Doug Kingsmore Stadium for a three-game series, which starts today at 1 p.m., holding a four-game lead on the Tigers in the ACC standings. With a 43-6 record overall they have won 12 straight games, including a 5-2 win over No. 25 Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country coming to town this weekend,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said.
While Louisville comes in hot, the Tigers (37-12, 16-8 ACC) come in stumbling somewhat. After winning 33 of their first 40 games, they are 4-5 since, including a three-game sweep by No. 3 North Carolina two weeks ago in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“The big key for us is just playing good baseball,” Lee said. “I think just looking over the last 10 games … we have to find a way to eliminate the big inning. That is really it.”
Louisville (20-4 ACC) is a team the Tigers cannot afford to give a big inning to. The Cardinals average over seven runs a game and has a pitching staff that has a 2.58 combined ERA. Like all good Louisville teams, it gets runners on base and then puts pressure on the pitcher with its base runners.
The Cardinals have stolen 74 of the 93 bases it has attempted to swipe, including 16 by Josh Stowers and 20 by Logan Taylor. To put those numbers into perspective, Clemson has just 43 stolen bases and is led by Chase Pinder’s 11. He is the only Tigers with 10 swipes, while the Cardinals have three players with 10 or more.
By the way, Clemson will be without starting catcher Chris Williams behind the plate after he injured his shoulder while trying to get back to first base on a pick-off play last weekend against Nevada. Williams, who could be used as the designated hitter in the series, has helped the Tigers throw out 19 of the 44 runners who have tried to steal on them.
Though Clemson pitching has an impressive 3.12 ERA, the Cardinals might be the best overall hitting team the Tigers have seen this year. They are hitting .295 as a team with 53 home runs and a slug percentage of .466.
They’re not bad on the mound either. Led by one of the best two-way players in the country in Brendan McKay, Louisville’s three starters have ERAs of 1.92 (McKay), 2.42 (Nick Bennett) and 3.07 (Kade McClure). McKay is also second on the team in hitting with a .379 batting average with a team-high 15 home runs and is tied with a team-high 46 RBIs. He has a slugging percentage of .733, which is also tops on the team.
Drew Ellis leads the team with a .384 average and has 13 home runs and 45 RBIs.