UofL’s Sam Bordner will make a comeback, but at the next level

The sight of Sam Bordner confined to the bench, unable to help his University of Louisville teammates, was one of the most disappointing aspects of the 2016 college baseball season. UofL could have gone a long way with him at full strength. 

An arm injury brought Sam Bordner’s college career to a premature end (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Bordner was not available at the end, suffering from an inflamed elbow on his throwing arm. He would miss the last month and a half of the season, and would undergo Tommy John surgery on his right arm. 

On Thursday came the final lines to his UofL story, Bordner confirming what many UofL fans suspected he would do, he signed a professional contract with the Miami Marlins. He had been picked by Marlins in the 16th round of the draft, lower than this observer expected.

At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Bordner was an imposing image. Add to that those shoulder-length strands of blond hair falling out of his hat and a scorching fast ball, he was downright intimidating to some batters.

Bordner was named an All American following the 2017 season, compiling an amazing 0.41 earned run average in 43.2 inning and 23 games. Didn’t allow a run in 22 or 23 innings. He was on the mound when UofL eliminated Kentucky to earn its fourth trip to the College World Series. He seemed ready for a dominant season in 2017, picking up eight saves in his first 11 appearances.

The first signs of problems came in successive games against Florida State and North Carolina State. He would be the loser in both games, giving three runs to the Seminoles and four runs the Wolfpack, in the bottom half of the ninth inning in both games. He wound up with 10 saves for the season.

McDonnell, Tyra share high expectations for Louisville baseball

No last minute pitches unnecessary when one of the game’s traditional powers came calling. Dan McDonnell and Vince Tyra have been discussing the future of University of Louisville baseball for quite a while now. 

“I’ve enjoyed our conversations about the program and a relationship we’ve developed going back to when Dan first arrived in Louisville, and certainly over the last eight months,” said Tyra at a joint press conference Thursday.

Dan McDonnell reflects on past season, looks to future with Louisville baseball (Charlie Springer photos).

“That relationship has made the last few days it very comfortable for us to talk openly about what we would like to see for the Louisville program.”

McDonnell told fans Wednesday that he had talked with John Cohen at Mississippi State about the job but he wanted to remain at Louisville. 

A grateful Tyra said UofL wants to provide a great atmosphere for players, as much as facilities and more seats. “We’re exactly on the same page … We want to make sure we’re together with Dan for a long time, and that this is where he is going to stay. I’m going to do every thing in my power to keep him here and keep producing the kind of kids and winning teams we’ve had.”

He added that he has kept new UofL President Neeli Bendapudi informed about discussions. “She has been terrific,” he said. “Neeli has been hand in hand with both of us, and she has been supportive of someone who represents what we want this program and this university to be.”

When we get to Omaha, I want them to say, 'There's Louisville again.'  There's the bird with teeth, and there's their fans ...

McDonnell has received Tyra’s support for a new pro locker room addition to Jim Patterson Stadium to accommodate former UofL players now in professional baseball. There are approximately 30 of them now, many returning during the off season to study and to hone their athletic skills.

“Louisville is like a second home to them,” said McDonnell. “We want to provide a comfortable environment for them. We enjoy having them around in the locker room but it’s getting a little crowded with so many professional players now. They need to have their own facility.”

Tyra said he hoped a Request for Proposals could be submitted within the next 60 days, and indicated that the project could funded by a combination of private donations, athletic funds and the Dugout Club, a fan support group.

McDonnell said expectations for UofL baseball are at an all-time high. “The fans expect it, the media expects it, and I want college baseball to expect it. I want them to expect Louisville to be in a regional, hosting a regional, in a super regional. When we get to Omaha, I want them to say, ‘There’s Louisville again.’  There’s the bird with teeth, and there’s their fans and they’re a regular. We want to be knocking on the door to Omaha every year.”

Pretty obvious that Tyra and McDonnell have much in common with their aspirations for the program. 

Mississippi State rears its head again, threat to Louisville baseball

Dan McDonnell has transformed the baseball program during his 12 seasons at the University of Louisville (Charlie Springer photo).

Always something.

During an academic calendar year when Mississippi State teams brought abrupt ends to numerous University of Louisville athletic teams, one is not shocked that the same school is believed to be pursuing UofL’s baseball coach. This one may not end well either.

Louisville fans learned the hard way to not take Mississippi State lightly. Losses to the Bulldogs downed the football team in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the men’s basketball season in the NIT, the women’s basketball season in the Final Four, and the men’s tennis team in NCAA play.

Artist rendering of 13,000-capacity Mississippi State baseball facility.

The latest clash between the two schools is the most serious challenge yet. Dan McDonnell is among the best college baseball coaches in the country. He has guided UofL to four College World Series appearances, 11 appearances in the NCAA tournament and a school record 554 wins against only 222 losses in 12 seasons.

Mississippi State, however, has been serious about college baseball for much longer, compiling a program resume that could intimidate even the most serious UofL baseball fan. The Bulldogs have been to the College World Series nine times, participated in 33 NCAA regionals, won the SEC regular season 11 times, and the SEC tournament seven times. Their best finish in the CWS was second in 2013.

Mississippi State plays in a newly-renovated 13,000-seat Polk-Dement Stadium in Starkville, a facility that rivals many minor league baseball parks. The Bulldogs average more than 10,000 spectators per game. Their largest crowd ever was 15,586 for a game against arch-rival Mississippi in 2014.

With that kind of success come come sky high fan expectations. Mississippi State Athletic Director John Cohen has been looking for a new coach since the beginning of the season when Coach Andy Cannizaro was fired for an alleged affair with an athletic department employee.

Still looking for a new leader even tough the interim coach , Gary Henderson, formerly at Kentucky, wrapped up a championship in the NCAA Regional at Tallahassee on Monday. It’s possible Mississippi State will host Vanderbilt in a Super Regional next week. Cohen is probably still in the hunt despite the team’s recent success.

Dan McDonnell reportedly turned down overtures from Auburn baseball a few years ago, saying something to the effect that grass is not always greener somewhere else. McDonnell has built something special at Louisville and he knows it, exceeding the expectations he has set for the program on an ongoing basis.

Mississippi State is a whole different story, with a whole new level of pressures and assumptions, and a rowdy and demanding fan base   Whether that appeals to McDonnell wants remains to be seen, but he has always seemed happy at Louisville. The Bulldogs have a lot to offer, and no UofL baseball fan can relax for now.

Neeli Bendapudi big hit in first game at Jim Patterson Stadium

Baseball Coach Dan McDonnell and President Neeli Bendapudi at her first University of Louisville baseball game (Charlie Springer photos).

Neeli Bendapudi was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the University of Louisville – Indiana University baseball game on Tuesday.  A few days earlier, however, she had suffered a torn rotator cuff while unpacking at her new UofL home.

UofL softball pitcher Meagan Hensley threw out the first pitch for UofL President Neeli Bendapudi.

Meagan Hensley, a UofL softball pitcher, would happily throw the ball for Bendapudi at her first athletic event as the new University of Louisville President.  She was accompanied by her husband Venkat, a senior lecturer in the School of Business at Kansas University.

Bendapudi departed Jim Patterson Stadium shortly after the game started, presumably for other UofL business, only to return during the seventh inning. She was seen walking the steps in different areas of stadium, introducing herself to many of the 2,257 fans in attendance.

Venkat Bendapudi is a senior lecturer in the Business School at Kansas U.

People were eager to get to know her, letting her know how excited they were to have her in Louisville. Many of them wanting to have their pictures taken with her. Neeli, in return, happily posing with them, frequently throwing up the L sign, laughing, smiling, loving every minute of the interaction with the fans.

This observer actually had a couple of minutes before the game to chat with her, finding her to be engaging, warm and enthusiastic.  She makes a great first impression with everyone she meets, exuding a sincere and determined desire to do great things at UofL.

She’s clearly excited to be in Louisville and was busy cementing friendships for the University at her first UofL baseball game. Watch for her soon at a Louisville sporting event near you.

Neeli Bendapudi was everywhere in Jim Patterson stadium it seemed, engaging and getting to know UofL fans on her first day on the job.

Chris Mack with the first pitch

New University of Louisville Basketball Coach Chris Mack was on hand to throw out the first pitch for the University of Louisville-Western Kentucky baseball game Wednesday at Jim Patterson Field. Mack conferred with Athletic Director Vince Tyra and Baseball Coach Dan McDonnell beforehand. Tyra was behind the plate for the first pitch.

UofL won, 5-4, in a game that went three-and-a-half hours in damp, sub-50-degree weather. It was Louisville’s fifth straight win over WKU, improving UofL’s advantage to 72-69 in a series that dates back to 1924.