A second-team All-Big East performer as a sophomore after batting .308 and stealing 24 bases, junior Sutton Whiting was supposed to be the lead off batter for the the University of Louisville baseball team.
But not even one game into this season, Whiting was hit by a pitch and suffered a fracture nose. He missed a week of action and then returned wearing a protective mask.
Whiting returned to the top of the lineup in early March but struggled through much of the season. He was taken out of the top spot in the batting order on May 11 and has been hitting eighth in the lineup the last three weeks.
"Dropping down in the lineup took some pressure off me," Whiting said. "I just wasn't swinging it well at all. Not at all.
"I want to be the lead off for sure, but now I'm the 8-hole hitter and I am just doing what's best for my team."
Whiting has been playing his best ball of the season since dropping down in the order. He's hit eighth 10 times in the past 12 games with him also hitting ninth in one game and the last game - a win over Kentucky - he hit lead off.
"Sutton is back," U of L coach Dan McDonnell said last week. "He's starting to swing it. He's been getting on base, now he's swinging it better and he's always played great defense. He's back, there's no doubt about that."
In the three NCAA Regional wins last weekend, Whiting was 3-for-10 with two walks, four runs scored an RBI and three stolen bases.
"I'm back and playing my game again," Whiting said. "I'm seeing the ball better. I had been getting on base and playing defense, just not swinging it well. But I feel like I have gotten my stride back and it's feeling good."
One of four captains on the team, Whiting had a sensational sophomore season when he hit .308, with 30 RBI, 41 runs scored and 24 stolen bases in helping the Cardinals to the College World Series. The expectations were high again.
In the opener against West Virginia, Whiting was 0-for-4 when he was hit in the nose in the ninth inning of an extra-inning win. He said the injury - even when healed - has affected his play for much of this season.
"I think it was a lot mental," he said. "I wouldn't stick my head into pitches too much and I was out there trying to do to much. I was trying to come back and be the hero each day.
Whiting saw his average dip to .204 and he has one stretch of just one hit in 30 at bats. But he's turned that around a bit. In the regular-season finale he was 1-for-2 with two walks, a run and an RBI and in the AAC title game against Houston he was 2-for-4 with a home run.
While his average is up to just .215, Whiting said he's "feeling more comfortable" at the plate. He was named to the Louisville Regional All-Tournament team last week.
"I had to wear a mask for a while and it just took me time," he said. "I wasn't comfortable at all. But now I am playing my game - stealing bags, playing good defense and swinging it well. I feel like I'm playing well again."
Whiting and the Cardinals will host Kennesaw State on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Super Regional, a best-of-three series.