CARBONDALE — The Louisville softball team has a lot of striking numbers — 102 stolen bases, 36 home runs in 54 games, three pitchers with over 100 innings — but the 30 triples still throw first-year coach Holly Aprile for a loop.
"We have 30 triples. It's a pretty decent number," laughed Aprile, the 2018 ACC coach of the year at Pittsburgh that became only the second coach in Louisville softball history last year. "We do have a big park, but we run the bases pretty well, and we pride ourselves on that. We really stress, even if you're slow or fast, you're not necessarily a good baserunner because you're fast. We work on it a lot, and we have some pretty aggressive baserunners, as well."
The Cardinals (33-21) open the double-elimination Evanston Regional against SIU (31-13) today at noon. They arrived at their first NCAA regional in three years with 102 stolen bases on 117 attempts and three pitchers that all play both ways. Megan Hensley, who has started 9-3 in 28 appearances in the circle, is Louisville's third-best hitter with a .327 average. Her eight doubles are one behind team leader Sidney Melton, a second team all-conference third baseman who has 33 stolen bases on 36 attempts.
Pitcher/designated player Taylor Roby (13-4, 2.63 ERA), a redshirt freshman, leads the Cardinals in wins and delivered the game-winning hit in a victory over No. 23/24 Kentucky. Danielle Watson (11-14, 3.88 ERA) leads the team in appearances (36), innings (146), strikeouts (152) and walks (83).
"They kind of all do a lot of different things," Aprile said. "I think it's allowed us to, when we're scouting teams and looking at what they do, it gives us some things to pick out to go against the team that we're facing. We definitely have some flexibility."
Louisville has nine wins against teams in the NCAA Tournament and finished fifth in the ACC, but enters the regional on a four-game losing streak. The Cardinals had an RPI of 36 entering Selection Sunday but, like the Salukis, dropped their first game in the conference tournament. Aprile believes the team can rebound this weekend.
"It's about playing your best right now, and being able to learn from last weekend," she said. "Some of it is just being, like, teams get on a streak and get going. it's always about being able to stay in the moment and not get ahead of yourself, and just put in an overall team effort."
Northwestern coach Kate Drohan, who led the No. 17/18 Wildcats to the 16th seed in the tournament, said the field will be hard to predict. SIU has a pitcher that has set the program's all-time wins mark (senior Brianna Jones) who has also pitched in the NCAA regionals before, and Detroit Mercy is making its first NCAA appearance after winning the Horizon League tournament. Detroit coach John Conway is also retiring after this season.
"(Hosting the regional) is a great opportunity," Drohan said. "But you've gotta play tough. The three teams coming in here are very athletic. I think they're playing great softball right now, so, I think the key to this tournament will be taking it one game at a time."