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June 4, 2014
Kennesaw next for surging Cardinals
The Louisville Baseball team will face first-time tournament entrant Kennesaw State, a Georgia school that advanced from the Tallahassee Regional with wins over Alabama (1-0 and 4-2) and Georgia Southern (13-5).
"It was an unbelievable experience here," said Kennesaw State coach Mike Sansing. "The city's been great, Florida State's been great in hosting this tournament. I am proud of our guys. It was an unbelievable effort -- the whole time, not just today. But we came back today after last night and it was rough. I'm just proud of these guys, I love them all. I just want to thank everybody for believing in our program. It was just a great experience for me, and I'm happy for them and our university."
Here's a stat that could give Louisville pause. In the last 40 years, five teams, including Kennesaw State this year, won their NCAA Regional in their first NCAA appearance. The previous four all made the College World Series.
The Owls (40-22) won the Atlantic Sun Conference to gain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and boast one of the best players in the nation in catcher Max Pentecost.
A draft-eligible junior from Winder, Ga., the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Pentecost is hitting .423 this season with 110 hits, 23 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 58 RBIs. His slugging percentage of .631 is among the best in the nation. He's a tough out, striking out only 25 times in 250 at bats with an on-base percentage of .483.
A former seventh-round pick of the Texas Rangers, Pentecost spurned the Rangers' signing bonus and went to Kennesaw State, where he studies biochemistry. Last summer he was rated the 18th-best prospect in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, playing alongside UofL team captain Jeff Gardner.
Pentecost isn't Kennesaw's only weapon, though. Three other full-time starters hit .300-plus -- sophomore outfielder Alex Liquori (.366), senior outfielder Bo Way (.358) and junior DH/infielder Collin Bennett (.309).
The Owls figure to start Travis Bergen (9-4, 2.39 ERA) and Jordan Hillyer (7-3, 3.55 ERA) in the first two games, but after that it could be one of three or four other players.
Bergen is a 6-0 lefty who most recently helped Kennesaw beat Alabama twice. He opened the Regional Friday by allowing just five hits in 8 2/3 innings in what was likely Kennesaw's biggest win in school history. He threw 121 pitches and walked only one batter. He came back Monday and threw 3 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit and no runs in Kennesaw's regional clinching 4-2 win.
"We had talked about it as coaches, and then I think it was right before the game and I looked up at Bergen and he says, 'I'm ready,'" said Sansing of the decision to pitch Bergen on short rest. "So I was like, 'Yeah, we'll see what happens.' If we had maybe gotten deeper, things might have been different. We had to go to Plan B. We knew he was ready.... I can't say enough about him coming back even on two days. Yeah, he was going to be effective because he's got it right here (points to head)."
Hillyer is a 6-1 righty who also threw on Monday, going 2 1/3 hitless innings, although he did walk four batters.