The University of Louisville baseball team takes a 13-game winning streak into the final regular-season series of the season.
The Cardinals will host Pittsburgh, which has a 15-game Big East Conference winning streak, in a series that will decided the Big East champion.
The first game of the series is slated for 6 p.m. on Thursday with a 6 o’clock game on Friday and noon game on Saturday also on the slate for the Cardinals.
”It’s kind of exciting,” senior second baseman Nick Ratajczak said. “We have to stay focused on one game at a time, but it’s exciting.
”When coach challenged us a few weeks ago to play good baseball, we’ve had a lot of guys step up and we need to continue it.”
U of L is 43-10 on the season and 17-4 in the Big East Conference, while the Panthers are 40-12 and 18-3 in league play. Seton Hall also has a chance to tie if U of L wins two games in the series and they sweep St. John’s.
”It should be a fun weekend,” U of L coach Dan McDonnell said. “But we have to stay focused and play good, clean baseball. It’s like I tell them if you get caught looking at the mountain out in front of you, then you will trip over the mole hill.”
Chad Green (8-2, 1.73 ERA) will get the first game start against Ethan Mildren (9-2, 2.17), while Jeff Thompson (9-1, 1.94 ERA) meets Matt Wotherspoon (9-1, 3.05) in Friday night’s game. Dace Kime (5-1, 3.06) pitches for U of L against Rhys Aldenhoven (8-0, 2.12) in Saturday’s game on ESPNU.
McDonnell said this is “what you come to Louisville for,” trying to compete for a title. The Cardinals won the league title in 2009, ’10 and ’12.
”This is why we set the goals and the bar so high,” McDonnell said. “We want them now to enjoy this opportunity for so much at stake as people like to put it. But we have to remember no matter what happens this weekend, we still get to go to the conference tournament and to the NCAA. We can’t get too high or too low.”
The Cardinals will say goodbye to three seniors, including Ratajczak and first baseman Zak Wasserman (you can find features on both on the site).
The third senior is a guy McDonnell called a “key role player” for the Cardinals and that’s outfielder Matt Helms. He’s a back up who gets the call when right fielder Cole Sturgeon comes in to pitch in a game.
Helms is hitting .237 and has started seven games this season.
“My role is if anybody needs help in the outfield or anybody needs a break for that day, I will come in,” Helms said. “Or if Cole Sturgeon comes in to pitch, I take his spot. I’m pretty much ready any time if I’m needed.
“I have to be prepared like a starter every day. It’s great because we have a lot of depth on this team, but we all have to be ready.”