Louisville baseball on the road again to Omaha

Dan McDonnell doesn’t have to remind players of the annual aspirations or the ultimate objective for University of Louisville baseball.

They are, in this order: Getting back to Omaha for the College World Series and winning a national championship.

Dan McDonnell: “You have to believe before you can achieve.”

Reminders abound throughout baseball complex. The wall behind his desk is a super magnified photo of Ameritrade Stadium. The same one adorns the wall of the team meeting room.  The outfield walls in Jim Patterson Stadium feature giant billboards commemorating three past trips to Omaha.

A banner on the front entrance to the stadium declares that the road to Omaha goes through Louisville. The coaches, the players and the fans share the same expectation of getting back to Omaha, of someday getting out of Omaha with the biggest trophy of them all.

The coach went to the College World Series as a college player at The Citadel in 1990.  He expects it, always anticipates returning.

“You got to believe it before you can achieve it,” McDonnell said. “I felt like this year I didn’t have to say it as much, which is good.  It’s understood.  It’s why the kids are here.  It’s what the fans expect here and I’m really proud of that.  That’s a neat place to be – a program where the expectations are to go to Omaha and win a national championship.”

The season begins for the Cardinals this weekend in Clearwater, Fla., with a Friday game at 3 p.m. against Alabama State, a Saturday game at 6 p.m. against Maryland, and a Sunday 1 p.m. game against Ball State. No television but the games will be broadcast on 93.9 The Ville.

The opening home game is against Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday at 3 p.m., followed by a three-game weekend series against Nebraska-Omaha.

The Cubbies: 2016 World Series champions

It is happening. The long, long wait is over.

cubs-logoThe Chicago Cubs and their fans are celebrating the 2016 World Series championship in Major League Baseball. Everywhere. And there is no end in sight.

Clearly the class of the major leagues this year, winning their division by 17 1/2 games. Ending 108 years of frustration, rewarding fans loyal to their franchise, many of them never expecting the Cubs to ever again win another championship. It could be argued that many of them were Cubs’ fans because the Cubs were perpetual losers.

One or two generations of fans living and dying without seeing their Cubs, some blaming the curse of a Chicago bar owner who brought his Billy goat to Wrigley Field during the 1946 World Series. After getting booted from the ball park, he placed a curse on the Cubs, saying they would never win another championship.

But they refused to desert their Cubs, remaining faithful through so many lean years. That would include my 93-year-old mother-in-law who at one time knew every player on the roster. She’s got a lot to talk about at the retirement home today, her Cubs have finally come through for her.  

The “curse” has been lifted at long last. Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs and Cubs’ fans everywhere.

North Carolina loses ACC baseball tournament to Louisville

The North Carolina stranglehold on hosting ACC tournaments has been broken, at least for now.

University of Louisville baseball fans, who have grown accustomed to extended seasons, will now get to see even more post-season games at home in Louisville. Not the home stadium, but downtown at Slugger Field in 2017.

Dan McDonnell welcomes ACC tournament in Louisville. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)
Dan McDonnell welcomes ACC tournament in Louisville. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Tuesday that the ACC baseball tournament will be played in downtown Louisville. The tournament has long been hosted at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park but moved by the conference as a result of the bathroom legislation (yeah, that bathroom legislation) in North Carolina.

 Louisville Slugger Field, which opened in 2000, boasts a seating capacity of 13,131. Home of the Louisville Bats, the stadium played host to the 2008 Triple-A All-Star Game and features 32 private suites in addition to second-level club seating.

 “The city of Louisville knows how to host big events, especially sporting events, and I believe all of the ACC teams will enjoy the experience of playing in a great sports town and in a terrific ballpark,” said UofL baseball head coach Dan McDonnell. “I’m also excited our fan base will have the opportunity to experience and support the ACC Baseball Championship.” 

Tuesday’s announcement by the ACC, which included the unveiling of six other championship sites for 2016-17, followed last week’s announcement that the ACC Football Championship Game will be played Dec. 3 at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. Eight states within the ACC footprint are now scheduled to host at least one conference championship during the current academic year.

Five of the top UofL baseball games ever

Nick-SolakAfter nearly a century in obscurity, University of Louisville baseball has established itself as a major player, finishing among the top 10 teams the past three seasons.

Die-hard baseball fans would argue that post-season baseball is every bit as exciting as watching football on autumn night or basketball on a winter afternoon. Something like hitting a massive underdog sports bet that no one but you saw happening. If you have been in the same situation but didn’t get around to placing that bet, it’s good to learn the odds before one makes a wager.

While many great games have undoubtedly been lost to the annals of history, by magnitude and importance to the program, here are five of my top UofL baseball games of all-time.

June 3, 2007: Louisville 8, Miami 7

UofL has been to the College World Series three times in the last decade. But trips to Omaha (or even Regionals) were far from imaginable most of the program’s history. That all started to change with the arrival of manager Dan McDonnell in 2007.

Third-seeded UofL had already recorded the program’s first ever NCAA regional win two days prior, a 13-7 comeback win against perennial power Miami. After losing to Missouri the next day, a re-match with the Hurricanes loomed. Louisville won an 8-7 thriller thanks to four runs batted in by Jorge Castillo. The Cards would go on to eliminate Missouri and Oklahoma State en route to the program’s first ever College World Series berth.

May 24, 2008: Louisville 6, Cincinnati 3

Despite earning a trip to Omaha the year before, the Cards had still never won a conference tournament champion in their history. But a second consecutive 40-plus win season put UofL in position to end the drought against rivals Cincinnati in the Big East Conference.

Deadlocked at 3-3 in the top of the 8th, a two-run double from Stewart Ijames broke the tie to give the Cards a late edge. First baseman Andrew Clark would add an additional run on a single later that inning, allowing Louisville to win their first conference tournament and make their third trip to an NCAA Regional in history.

June 9, 2013: Louisville 2, Vanderbilt 1

Despite multiple regular season conference titles and four seasons in excess of 40 wins, the Cardinal nine had been unable to find their way back to Omaha since 2007. But a new class of Cards now had the opportunity to punch their ticket by beating #2 Vanderbilt in the 2013 Nashville Super Regional.

The Cards won game one narrowly 5-3, and the second game was expected to be a pitcher’s duel as they faced the Commodores’ 14-0 Tyler Beede. He would allow two runs on five hits, that was all Louisville needed with Jeff Thompson giving up only three hits in a 2-1 win, sending the Cards back to Omaha.

June 6, 2014: UofL 5, Kennesaw State 3

A crowd of 4,235 turned out at Jim Patterson Stadium to watch Louisville try and clinch their second straight trip to Omaha against the visiting Kennesaw State Owls in the 2014 Super Regional.

They would not be disappointed, as the Cardinals rallied back from an early 4-2 deficit to regain the lead in the fifth inning. The big hit, a two-run home run by freshman Nick Solak. Right hander Drew Harrington would earn his 12th win of the season.

April 19, 2016: UofL 7, Kentucky 6

Whether it’s basketball, football, lawn bowling or anything else, there are few simpler joys in life than watching UofL beat UK. That’s become a frequent occurrence on the diamond lately, with Louisville winning the last five games.

UK led most of the way, but coughed up three runs in the seventh inning and then two more in the eighth, allowing UofL to tie the score at 6-6. For a second straight season, UK would suffer a walk off defeat, thanks to a run-scoring single up the middle by Devin Hairston.

Louisville baseball sets attendance mark during 2016 season

UofL fans depart Jim Patterson Stadium following final game but before setting an all-time attendance record.
UofL fans depart Jim Patterson Stadium following a loss in the final game but not before setting an all-time attendance record.

“I’m really proud of our fans. I was hoping we were give them one more day, one more game.”

One more game may have gotten Dan McDonnell’s baseball team into its fourth College World Series. One more out, a couple more strikes, a few less balls. What could have been.

The good news is the University of Louisville baseball team broke the 100,000 mark in attendance for the first time in the program’s history during the 2016 season.

UofL baseballThe Cardinals attracted a total of 101,415 for 39 games, including five NCAA tournament games, or an average of 2,600 spectators per game. Total attendance for the NCAA regional games was 22,461 or 4,492 per game.

Total attendance for 34 regular season games was 78,874 or 2,330 persons per game.

The second game in a three-game series against Clemson on April 16 drew the largest crowd of the season, a total of 4,950 fans.

Second largest was 4,784 in the Super Regional final against Santa Barbara, followed by 4,770 against Western Michigan in the first game of the Regional, 4,642 against Kentucky, and 4,634 for the first game of the Super Regional against Santa Barbara.