LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The motivation for Louisville and Kentucky to win Friday's openers of the NCAA regional goes beyond starting the postseason strong.
If the top-seeded Cardinals (45-15) beat No. 4 seed Kent State (36-21) and the Wildcats (35-23) top Kansas (34-24) in a matchup of Nos. 2-3 seeds on Friday, a first-ever NCAA tournament meeting between the in-state rivals looms Saturday. Though nowhere close to the fierce basketball rivalry, the showdown is still expected to ignite their fan bases.
"To have two teams, especially in the state, with exceptional years is big," Kentucky catcher Micheal Thomas said Thursday. "It's going to be exciting. The next couple of days are going to be fun for everybody."
Kentucky and Louisville must first win their openers, a priority they say trumps the urge to look ahead. The Cardinals will start ace Kyle Funkhouser against the Golden Flashes in hopes of possibly facing Wildcats lefthander A.J. Reed, a two-way threat and national player of the year candidate.
"We've got people asking questions about possible matchups, (but) there's no guarantee we're playing one of the other two teams on the other side and there's a good chance we won't," said Louisville coach Dan McDonnell, whose team seeks back-to-back College World Series berths.
"Right now, Kent State's the team. They went to Omaha (home of the World Series) a couple of years ago and I don't see a bigger game than that."
The Wildcats swept the regular season series, which didn't include Reed on the mound. Louisville's focus is staying in the winner's bracket in the double-elimination tournament behind sophomore right-hander Funkhouser (12-2, 1.81 ERA), who has won five straight and set a single-season school record for victories.
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