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Saturday, April 22, 2023

Cards Get Opening Win at Virginia; Walz Adds Another -- SATURDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

Roby and Otis Deliver Milestone Homers in 5-3 Win

In a game that saw both teams hit two home runs to provide the only scoring, Louisville came out ahead with a 5-3 victory over Virginia in the opening game of their three game weekend set. As Jared mentioned yesterday, this series is critical for Louisville to stay in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid and to stay ahead of Virginia Tech (1.5 games back) for fourth in the ACC. A win last night helps to get the weekend started in a positive way.

While things ended up positive for Louisville, it didn't look great early. Korbe Otis singled to lead off the game, wasting no time in starting a new on-base streak, but the next three batters headed back to the dugout on a sacrifice bunt, a line out, and a pop out. Alyssa Zabala took the circle for the Cards and induced a ground out to open the inning. She gave up a single to the two-hole hitter but got a foul out to give the defense two outs. Unfortunately, the number of outs is a bit irrelevant when the cleanup hitter goes yard. A pop up ended the inning, but the Hoos led 2-0.

The second saw Louisville get a runner on base but leave none stranded in a 4-up, 3-down situation. After a ground out by Sarah Gordon, Daisy Hess laid down a bunt single. Pickle Winkler hit a line shot to center field that was caught, leaving Hess on first with two outs. That's not so odd, right? Except Ally Alexander wouldn't see an official at-bat. Hess was caught stealing to end the top half of the inning. After settling in a bit during the break, Zabala sat Virginia down 1-2-3.

In the third, Alexander stepped back to the plate just as she had the inning prior. She snagged a lead off single and was bunted to second by Paige Geraghty. Otis sent another liner into the outfield, but her hit was also right at a fielder, just like Winkler's. Easton Lotus delivered a single, but it stayed in the infield, advancing Alexander only to third. A ground out ended the inning, stranding two on base and leaving the Cards down 2-0. Still going strong, Zabala retired her fifth, sixth, and seventh straight batters.

The fourth inning was the big one. Taylor Roby opened with a second-pitch solo shot to center field to cut Virginia's lead in half. Gordon followed with a first-pitch single, and Hess drew a full-count walk. That chased the Virginia starter, which looked to be a good move for the Cavaliers. Winkler popped out, but Makayla Hurst loaded the bases with a pinch-hit walk. Geraghty put the ball in play, and the Cards narrowly avoided disaster with a force out at the plate that didn't turn into a double-play to end the inning. One extra chance was all they needed. Korbe Otis stepped into the box and sent a 3-1 pitch to left center for her first career grand slam. Lotus struck out, but Louisville had done its damage. The Cards hit two home runs in the inning and put five runs on the board to flip the advantage. Now trailing, Virginia was fired up to get back into it, but Zabala made quick work of them, using just seven pitches to get her third straight clean inning.

Louisville was quiet in the fifth, earning just a walk, but it was moot with Zabala continuing her fantastic start after the first inning home run. Six pitches retired the side in the fifth inning and five pitches was all it took in the sixth. The sixth inning for Louisville showed a lot of promise. The Cards threatened by loading the bases with a two-out rally (with the help of an error), but they couldn't capitalize and the teams headed to the seventh with the score still 5-2.

Louisville got another pair of runners on base in the top of the seventh but one negated the other. Neither came around to score, meaning Virginia needed three runs to keep the game going and four to win. Zabala reentered for her seventh inning of work, having thrown only 63 pitches in the first six innings. Just as she had over the previous five innings, Zabala retired the first two batters. Abby Weaver was committed to not going down without a fight, though, and she matched Roby's fifth inning solo shot with one of her own to break Zabala's out streak at 17. The home run made it 5-3, but that was the final as a pop out ended the game. 

Alyssa Zabala, take a bow. Three runs on three hits in a complete game win. Is it great that two of those hits were home runs? No. However, it is great that she gave up no walks and had one strikeout as part of the aforementioned 17 out streak. Louisville's offense gave her the cover she needed, and she threw a complete game in only 75 pitches. In comparison, Virginia needed 122 pitches from their three pitchers to get the same 21 outs. It was a fantastic outing that would have been terribly undersold if Louisville hadn't managed to show up at the plate. But they did, so I'm giving Zabala her flowers. Zabala had been a bit cooler of late, and it seemed a bit like the college season was getting to the freshman. I'm happy to report that it appears to have been just a minor slump and Zabala is ready to keep showing her stuff in the critical part of the year.

In the win, Taylor Roby hit a solo home run to set a program record with 18 homers in a single season. Already the owner of the career home run record, Roby has eight regular season games remaining to extend her single season record. She seems likely to do so and it seems like a record likely to stand for quite some time. We talked a lot about how last season saw her struggle at the plate and in the circle due to the overwork and steep expectations at both positions. It didn't manifest right away this year, but it seems clear that Roby has thrived by not being depended on as the only arm and the biggest bat.

Korbe Otis held an on-base streak of 35 games prior to the win at Western Kentucky earlier this week. While it was unfortunate for her to miss out, she didn't let it cloud her play going forward. Otis had three hits in four at-bats in this one, with the aforementioned grand slam being the big one. Her run scored from the homer moves her alone into fifth on Louisville's single season runs scored list. She's now two behind Carmyn Greenwood's 2022 season for fourth and just 12 away from tying the record of 64 set by Melissa Roth in 2009.

Louisville and Virginia will face off again tonight at 6PM. The game will be streamed on ACC Network Extra. A 4PM start wraps up the series tomorrow on ACC Network proper. Louisville will look for a pair of big wins before returning to Ulmer next weekend for their home finale series against Boston College. The Cards wrap up the regular season on the road against league-leading Florida State on Derby Weekend, so wins this weekend and next are key.

Sydney Taylor Commits to Louisville

Another day means another roster addition for Jeff Walz and the Louisville women's basketball squad, apparently. After getting a commitment from Nina Rickards Thursday, last night saw a commitment from Sydney Taylor, a transfer from UMass. Taylor, a 5-9 guard out of Long Island, will officially be a grad transfer. She played in 17 games during her freshman year and started in all 90 games she played over the next three seasons. She was on the All-Championship team for the A-10 as a sophomore and as a junior, and she was named to the A-10 All-Conference Second Team in her junior year. As a senior, Taylor was First Team All-Conference and made the All-Academic Team as well. 

Jared mentioned yesterday that Rickards was not known for being a three-point threat. The same can't be said for Taylor. Taylor averaged 16.1 points per game and scored her 1,000th career point in November. She scored a season high of 30 points at Dayton in late January, led by a career-best seven threes. Overall, Taylor led the Atlantic 10 in made threes and threes per game with 104 (3.2 per game). Those marks were tied for seventh and tied for sixth in the NCAA, respectively. As a junior, she averaged 15.9 points and was 2nd/20th in the conference and NCAA in threes per game. Overall, her senior season saw her shoot 41% from the floor, 38.5% from three, and 81% from the line. She added 5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.94 steals, and 2.5 turnovers per game. Not a major part of any 5-9 guard's game, she had just five blocks on the year. She averaged 2.5 fouls per game, highest on the team, but fouled out just once. 

Taylor's pickup now gives Louisville enough players to play 5-on-5 in practice without the volunteer practice squad, but I expect she won't be the last addition to the 2023-24 roster.

No Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast

With today being the start of Louisville's holiday season (Thunder Over Louisville), we'll be taking the week off from the show. Looking ahead, we're planning to record an episode next week before also having Derby Day off. It should be full steam ahead into the summer after that, with hopefully plenty of post-season softball to discuss.

Until next time, Go Cards!

1 comment:

  1. Happy Thunder Day to all my friends and family back in the Ville.. watching online. Not the same thing though. Miss you all.

    Curtis " Bee kind" Franklin


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