After sweeping top-10 ranked Houston over the weekend, Louisville hosts archrival Kentucky tonight at 6 p.m.
The Cardinals lost to the Wildcats 8-3 on April 1, but they enter this rematch as one of the hottest teams in the country.
Louisville Baseball entered last weekend with a 24-8 record and ranked No. 10 in the nation.
Sounds good, right? It was, except the Cardinals had only one win over a RPI Top 50 team (1-3) and they possessed an RPI hovering around 50th in the nation.
UofL solved two problems in one weekend by sweeping the Houston, the No. 3 RPI team in the nation, at Houston (26-9, 4-5 AAC) this weekend. On Thursday, Louisville had an RPI ranking of 52. On Sunday night, that ranking was No. 27. UofL improved to 27-8, 7-2 and moved up to No. 7 in this week's Perfect Game USA Top 25 Poll.
"The weekend was good," senior Alex Chittenden said. "We went down to Houston and took care of business."
Said Louisville coach Dan McDonnell: "We got three quality starts on the mound. It is easier to play good baseball when your starters give you a quality outing. We also made a lot of good, above-average plays in the field. I don't know about top-10 plays, but a lot of good plays. What that does is it kills their spirit. Fortunately for us they made a few errors, and we made the plays to make them pay for those. We played really good defense, and when they made a mistake we were able to capitalize with a timely hit."
Louisville won 4-2 Friday night and 3-2 Saturday before blowing open the scoring with a 10-3 win Sunday as Houston's pitching tuckered out. In just three games, Louisville put itself back into contention for hosting an NCAA Regional and validated its lofty ranking in most human polls.
"That's post-season baseball," McDonnell said of his team's performance. "You always hear me say that before the conference tournament, before the NCAA Regional and before the Super Regional. Throw strikes, make plays and then get a timely hit. We did all three of those this weekend."
Houston didn't make it easy on the visiting Cardinals. The Cougar fans were loud and rowdy Friday and Saturday while the series was in the balance.
"That's the toughest road environment I think I've ever played in," senior Jeff Gardner said. "They were ready for us."
Said McDonnell: "We hadn't had a lot of road trips, so it was new to us not knowing how we were going to respond playing on the road. We went in with a family approach, us against the world, and I told them we had to stick together as a team. We walked into a hostile environment, and we handled it well."
A successful road trip like that can catapult a team to success in the remainder of its schedule. That's the hope for these Cardinals. They have eight games remaining against RPI Top-100 teams, including games at Vanderbilt (RPI 13) and vs. Indiana (RPI 9).
"We definitely gained confidence," Chittenden said. "Our team confidence is very high right now. Everyone is playing their role, doing their job. We're just keeping our head down and going out and having fun."
"I think this weekend showed that we have a lot of fight in us, and we can do something pretty special," Gardner said. "This weekend was probably the best complete baseball that we've played. We had games earlier this season where guys swung it well or pitchers really had a good outing, but this weekend we put it all together."
McDonnell enjoyed the weekend but was ready to move on at Monday's practice.
"As coaches we don't sit around and enjoy it as much as we should because we are always looking ahead," he said. "We have a good opponent Tuesday night and then another tough road trip this weekend at UCF."
GOLDEN SPIKES LIST
Gardner and junior RHP Nick Burdi were among the 50 players named to the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list released last week. The Heisman Trophy of collegiate baseball, the trophy will be presented in Los Angeles on July 17.
A two-year team captain, Gardner leads the 10th-ranked Cardinals (27-8) in hitting (.363), RBIs (40), doubles (13) and slugging percentage (.573). A two-time all-conference selection and the Preseason American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Gardner has 17 multiple-hit games and 13 multiple-RBI games this season.
A first-team Perfect Game All-American last season, Burdi has seven saves and a 2-0 record on the mound while striking out 30 in 17 1/3 innings of shutout relief. Dating to last season, Burdi has run his career-best scoreless streak to 22 innings, and opposing batters are hitting only .115 against him this season.
Louisville is one of nine schools with two players on the midseason watch list, joining Cal State Fullerton, Florida State, Indiana, Kentucky, LSU, Oregon State, Pepperdine and Virginia.