It hasn't been the best season for Adam Engel.
The University of Louisville junior center fielder was projected as the Cardinals' top draft pick prior to the season and was expected to be an All-American caliber leadoff batter with a solid bat and sensational speed.
But Engel has struggled. While starting all 61 games and having 40 stolen bases, Engel is batting just .236 and saw his average dip to a season-low .231 last month as the Cardinals prepared for the postseason.
"It's been tough," Engel said.
Now, Engel is hoping the tough stretch is behind him. He only went 2-for-10 in the three NCAA Regional games last weekend, but had a huge two-run triple in the decisive game against Oklahoma State and scored three wins.
U of L coach Dan McDonnell called him a "huge key," as the Cardinals prepare to play No. 2 Vanderbilt in the best of three game series beginning on Saturday at 3 p.m. EST at Hawkins Field in Nashville, Tenn.
"Every great offense in the country has a great leadoff hitter," McDonnell said. "We still feel like we have a great leadoff hitter. He's a big, big key for us."
Engel said he's been joking with his teammates during the latter part of the season that he was saving up his hits for the postseason. He does have a .364 on-base percentage this season for the Cardinals (49-12).
"I laughed about it when I would have a bad game," Engel recalled. "I would say, ‘You know what fellas, I'm saving it for the postseason.' It would all be worth it if I did have my break out in the postseason.
"I feel like it's back. I know there's still more to come and I will continue to work on that and hopefully this weekend if when I have my breakout."
Engel did start the season as the top Draft prospect on the team because of his skillset and speed. But through 10 rounds of the MLB Draft on Friday, Engel was not one of the three U of L players to have his named called.
After starting the season with a .344 batting average, Engel saw his average drop. He had several stretches of multiple hitless games.
"He probably pressed a little bit and hit a tough patch," McDonnell said. "Also getting him ready for pro ball, coach (Chris) Lemonis had to rework the swing a little bit. It would be like reworking Peyton Siva's jump shot in the middle of the season. We did that for Adam, for his benefit and ours.
"Adam has handled it and is very mature."
Engel said he has felt "a lot better" in recent weeks. He as one of the players that McDonnell "called out" after a 10-2 loss to Vandy on April 23. McDonnell told him he had not seen him make too many plays on defense.
"He turned and looked me right in the eye and told me just how he felt," Engel said. "It's the first time he's ever done it in that fashion to me in front of the guys. You've just got to take it like a man.
"You could say it hurt, but at the same time, it was more of me realizing I have a role on this team. That's to help lead. Once you get called out as a leader, you have to respond in a way that's best for the team, regardless of how it made me feel."
And since that game, the Cardinals have won 19 of 21 times. Engel still isn't there with his bat but he's getting on base and getting things going.
"My job isn't to get all the big hits," Engel said. "My job is to get on base and to lead this team. I have to make sure my job is still in tact."