DURHAM, N.C. (KT) - Louisville's soft-spoken centerfielder Josh Stowers says he doesn't like to talk about himself, but the way he's been playing lately he doesn't have much choice.
Showing the form that earned him first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors, Stowers turned in his second monster performance in a row while leading No. 5 seed U of L (41-16) to a 10-2 romp over No. 9 Wake Forest (25-31) in a first-round game of the ACC Tournament Wednesday.
"Coming in, Stowers was a guy we didn't want to let beat us," said Wake coach Tom Walter.
So much for that strategy. Stowers delivered a three-run homer, a three-run triple and a double in Durham Bulls Athletic Park, driving in six runs for the second consecutive game after doing the same in Saturday's season finale against Notre Dame, including the game-winning homer in a 10-7 victory.
The junior from Westchester, Ill., came up a single shy of joining former Georgia Tech star Jason Basil in hitting for the cycle in an ACC tourney game (vs. Duke in 2000) and his six RBI were two shy of the single-game record set by Maryland's Mike Murphy vs. Duke in 1985.
"I may have hit for the cycle when I was 12 or 13 when it didn't really matter," Stowers said.
He has now reached base in 40 straight games and hit safely in the last 10. In the last 29 games, he is batting .418 with six home runs, 37 RBI and 20 stolen bases. He leads the ACC with 63 runs.
"I felt like Josh had a chance to be one of the best centerfielders in the country," U of L coach Dan McDonnell said. "And no disrespect to others, I'm going to stand by it because I get to see him every day. I get to see what he does defensively and on the base paths, and you saw what he did today with the bat."
Stowers began the season as Louisville's leadoff hitter, but in 26 starts was hitting just .253 after batting .313 as a sophomore. The turning point came when he suggested to McDonnell that he move to the No. 5 slot in the batting order. Bingo.
"Our video manager, Mike Allman, brought it to my attention that when I have runners in scoring position, my batting average is like .380," Stowers said. "So I decided to text Coach McDonnell one day and asked him what he would think about me in the five spot because I feel like I can drive in a lot more runs, be more productive. And ever since then, it's been smooth sailing."
Since the move, he is hitting a smooth .430.
"Sometimes," McDonnell said, "you've got to open your ears and listen to the players. He looks like the guy from the last part of last season, where he was so locked in. What he’s done the last month was the guy I think everybody saw, how well he played in the postseason (in 2017). It’s fun to see these guys evolve.”
Wake had beaten U of L in two of three games back in mid-March, but was no match for the Cards and their star player this time.
Stowers' three-run homer in the fourth inning, a 362-foot blast that cleared the "Blue Monster" wall in left field and flew over the replica of the bull used in the movie "Bull Durham," wiped out a 1-0 deficit. It followed a leadoff double by Devin Mann and a walk to Logan Wyatt.
Stowers later doubled and scored again, then in the eighth he drilled a three-run triple as U of L won for the 12th time in its last 14 games.
In the pitching department, freshman lefthander Reid Detmers (4-1) started and worked 5.2 solid innings, allowing four hits, one earned run and striking out five. Relievers Bryan Hoeing and Michael McAvene combined to give up only one hit the rest of the way.
"I came in today trying to keep them off balance and keep the ball down in the zone," Detmers said. "Just have our infielders and outfielders field everything for me."
Louisville will continue Pool D play Friday when it faces No. 4 Duke (39-14) at 11 a.m., with the winner advancing to Saturday's 1 p.m. semifinal against top-seeded North Carolina or No. 12 Pittsburgh. Junior ace Adam Wolf (6-2, 2.33 ERA) will be on the mound for the Cards.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college basketball and football for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org