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AAA Apr. 20, 2015 4:00 PM ET
Pitching, aggressive offense keep bringing Louisville wins
By ERIC OLSON, AP Sports Writer
FILE - In this June, 2014, file photo, Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell speaks at a news conference ahead of the NCAA baseball College World Series tournament in Omaha, Neb. The Cardinals, in their first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, are on track for their sixth regular-season title in seven years. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
No matter the conference, Louisville's baseball team keeps winning.
The Cardinals, in their first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, are on track for their sixth regular-season title in seven years. They're using the same formula that produced success in the American Athletic Conference and, before that, the Big East: strong pitching and an aggressive offense.
Louisville (30-9) this past weekend swept Wake Forest, winning the last game when Corey Ray stole home in the bottom of the ninth inning, to improve to 19-2 in the ACC. The Cardinals are up five games on Florida State in the Atlantic Division.
They're ranked as high as No. 3 in this week's polls and are in strong position for one of the eight national seeds for the NCAA Tournament.
"When we're winning like this, it's just a lot of fun," pitcher Josh Rogers said. "We're relaxed on the bases, relaxed at the plate, we're putting up a lot of crooked numbers in innings, stealing a lot of bases. Everybody's making plays, pitchers are pounding the zone."
Louisville has the best two-way player in the nation in left-handed freshman Brendan McKay. He's batting .325 out of the No. 4 hole, has committed one error in 152 chances at first base and is 6-1 with a team-best 1.70 ERA as the Cardinals' Saturday starter.
"We all know who he is now," Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. "There are no more surprises or shocks. He's proven he can play at this level. Now the challenge is can he endure the length of a season? So it's our job to keep him going."
Friday starter Kyle Funkhouser (5-2, 2.41), an All-American last year, and Sunday starter Rogers (6-1, 2.97) have combined with McKay to strike out 182 in 178 innings. Zack Burdi has taken over the closer's role that last year belonged to brother Nick, a second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins. The staff is allowing a nation-best 6.45 hits per nine innings.
The Cardinals went 17 for 17 on steals against Wake Forest and are 83 of 105 for the season. No steal was bigger than Ray's two-out theft of home in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader.
"We push our chips in the middle," McDonnell said. "You're not going to win every hand but you just do what you do."
A look around the country:
SEC SHOWDOWN: The series of the week is Thursday through Saturday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where LSU (34-6, 12-5 SEC) hosts Texas A&M (35-5, 12-5) in a meeting of the nation's top two teams. The Tigers have won four straight and 11 of its last 12. The Aggies are coming off their first series loss of the season, at home to Arkansas.
STREAKING ILLINI: Big Ten-leading Illinois (32-6-1) is off to its best start in program history and owns the nation's longest win streak at 13 games. No Illinois team since 1997 has won so many in a row, and the 10-1 start in conference play is the Illini's best since 1982.
BRUINS BEST SINCE '69: UCLA (28-8) took two of three from California for its ninth straight three-game series win, and the Bruins' 18-4 record in Pac-12 play is their best conference start since 1969.
BUSCH'S BIG DAY: Ryan Busch hit two home runs and tripled and doubled in Georgetown's 10-1 win over Stony Brook on Sunday. Busch started the day with a .252 average and five homers in 133 career games.
COMING UP ACES: Evansville left fielder Josh Jyawook made the defensive play of the season when he robbed Indiana's Craig Dedelow of a home run in the fifth inning last Wednesday. The left-handed Jyawook stretched his right arm as he ran into the waist-high fence and flipped into the Hoosiers' bullpen. He got up and showed the ball still in his glove. The Purple Aces won 2-1.Associated Press