As he walks to the plate, Jeff Gardner looks up to the sky, thankful for another at bat. Just outside the batter’s box he raises his bat, twists it slightly and stares at the logo. He then adjusts his batting helmet with his free hand and steps up to plate.
All batters probably have their own pre-bat rituals. One observed Gardner’s more closely lately because he appeared to be struggling during the NCAA Regional, managing only one hit in 12 at-bats. His batting average was .345 a couple of weeks ago, and has slipped to .326. A little premature to suggest he’s in a hitting slump but a little worrisome for some.
Dan McDonnell, perhaps, the coach sending in a pinch hitter for Gardner rather allow him a fifth at-bat against Kentucky. He was zero for four in that game, striking out twice, once with the bases loaded in the fifth, the other with two runners on in the seventh. The coach had good reason to be concerned for Gardner, knowing his player well.
Fortunately for Louisville, several of Garner’s teammates, including Nick Solak, Corey Ray and Cole Sturgeon, have been more coming on of late, raising their batting averages to .349, .328 and .325, respectively. The pitching was impressive, as it has been all season long.
The scouting report on Gardner strongly suggests low and outside pitches. Anywhere else spells trouble. That’s where Kent State, Kansas and Kentucky pitchers were consistently placing the ball. Gardner was aiming for the fences, it seemed, on every cut. Especially on third strikes, whether they were too low or too far outside, strikes or balls.
Maybe trying too hard, putting too much on his own shoulders. A simple base hit will do with runners on base. Opposite field, center field, wherever. Doesn’t have to clear the bases every time. Focusing on making contact until he gets one of that fat pitches.
Gardner’s a senior, with a few precious games remaining in his college career. Time to loosen up, have some fun, enjoy the game, and help his teammates get to Omaha, trusting himself, his instincts and his inherent abilities.