By Noah Allison–
Redshirt-sophomore third baseman Blake Tiberi has lifted his game to new heights. In his breakout season, he is shaping up to be a key contributor in Louisville baseball’s quest for a historic year. The top ten-ranked Cards are 19-5 overall with a 6-3 ACC record.
Tiberi has started all 24 games this year and has emerged as one of the Cards most reliable and explosive players.
After starting just a total of 22 games in his freshman year, Tiberi has earned the playing time. He is second on the team with four home runs and 23 RBI, and is third on the team with 32 hits.
At third base he has a nearly perfect fielding percentage of .975, which also happens to be the highest of any player to start all 24 games. After two years of developing Tiberi enjoys getting to contribute to the team’s success.
“Its always fun to come to the field and know you are penciled in everyday, its more relaxing and comforting knowing you just have to come to the field every day and compete and help the team win,” Tiberi said.
Work ethic has gone hand in hand with his and the team’s current success.
“I’d say as a whole I just try to get better every day. Whether its swinging, defense, I just try to work on little bits and pieces of it every day by coming in early or staying late at night after practice. It’s been about working on my game as a whole.”
Like every player on the team, last year’s season ending one game shy of the College World series has been a driving factor behind this 2016 campaign.
“I kind of took it to heart to help this team win a Super Regional, make it to Omaha and win the National Championship. It was good to get my feet wet but the season ended with a bad taste in my mouth,” Tiberi said.
“We had team meetings and such after we lost. We took it to heart that we were going to be one of the best teams in the country this year. We are just focused each and every day on getting better individually and as a team so that we don’t have to end the season on a loss. We want to finish with a win in Omaha, with a national championship.”
This past weekend the Cards hosted the defending national champions in the Virginia Cavaliers. Tiberi had a moment that has defined his roll in the team this year. After dropping game one of the series the Cards were losing 2-0 early in the Saturday rematch. With two outs and the bases loaded Tiberi managed to rip a double that scored three runs and opened the flood gates to the Cards 11-4 victory over the defending champs.
His hit helped reassure the prowess of this Cardinal squad with such high expectations.
“He’s a great hitter,” head coach Dan McDonnell said. “We always say ‘just do what you do,’ for him its trust his swing. He may have a few scuffles here and there but at the end of the day he is going to have a lot of quality at bats. He’s a guy you want up with runners on base.”
Beyond batting his play at third base has been crucial to the defensive oriented program.
“You’ve always got to be on your toes. You never know when somebody is going to smoke a ball at you. You have to be in tune with the game and know the situations, know what the other team is trying to do. You always have to be looking ahead because you never know what is going to happen,” Tiberi said.
Work ethic and veteran leadership helped guide Tiberi in the two years leading up to his breakout season. He recalls Sutton Whiting’s guidance. Whiting was last year’s senior shortstop, he appeared in two College World Series in his Louisville career.
“Sutt’s locker was right next to mine and he kind of helped with the mental side of things. He really pushed me when I red-shirted because he knew that I would be a component to help this team one day,” Tiberi said. “He had a major impact on my ability to help the team today.”
Over the past few years Louisville baseball has had one goal, to win the College World Series. The Cards have had great years and talented teams but the main goal has remained elusive. When Louisville baseball finally does reach that mountaintop it won’t just be the success of that year’s team. It will be the success of the program as a whole, of all the past teams and players whose contributions and legacies have lived on in their tutelage.
This year, guys like Blake Tiberi work to achieve Louisville baseball’s ultimate goal. Like each player before him, though, Tiberi has the same approach to the season, one game at a time.
“Each series is big, whether its conference or non-conference, so when we come to the field our mind-set is simple,” Tiberi said. “We’re coming to play.”
Photo by Wade Morgen / The Louisville Cardinal