A new day for Luke Smith, and UofL is in Regional finale

Luke Smith returned from near obscurity in a must-win game against Illinois State to lead the Cardinals to the Regional Championship game (Photos by Jared Anderson).

It’s a new day for Luke Smith. Waking up Monday morning “feeling brand new, ’cause the dreams he has been dreaming has finally came true.” He keeps going and going on the mound and when the game is over, Louisville has emerged with an 11-2 win over Illinois State in a must-win game.

No doubt about who the man was on the mound in the second game NCAA Regional game on Sunday. None other Luke Smith, taking names, taking charge (Photos by Jared Anderson).

Smith was the last pitcher anyone could have expected going eight and a third innings in what could have been the final game for the University of Louisville baseball team.  Submerged in a hitting slump, the end is painfully near.

Needing someone to lift them up, to cut through the doldrums. A 9-7 win over Indiana in the first game Sunday didn’t hurt, with a crazy ending that got Mike McAvene suspended for four days. A wild and crazy day, two memorable games, setting the stage for a classic finish.

Probably the least imposing person on the roster, Luke Smith had but disappeared from the rotation until a few weeks ago. Came out of hiding in the 11th inning against Indiana on May 15th. Showed some different stuff that night. Handcuffed the Hoosiers, one hit in two innings, big win for him and UofL. His fifth win against no losses.

That brief showing had to have made quite an impression on Coach Dan McDonnell. Trusting him with the immediate future of Louisville baseball. Smith in and out of trouble early against Illinois State, looking lost at times.

Especially in the bottom of the fourth, with two Illinois State runners on first and third. Eyes shifting toward bull pen. Not to worry. Smith is up to the challenge, forcing a fly out to right field, and striking out the final two batters.

The Louisville batters, perhaps desperate with their backs against the wall, more than likely inspired by Luke Smith, would break out en masse in the eighth inning. Posting six more runs, putting the game out of reach. A dream game for Luke Smith, and the 46th win of the season. 

Say goodbye to the lethargy.

Nick Bennett, UofL off and running in NCAA play

Danny Oriente is welcomed home by his teammates after his two-run home run in the second inning in Louisville’s first game of the NCAA Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium. That’s Nick Bennett in the top photo, striking out the side in the third inning (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Nick Bennett is just fine, thank you, alleviating the concerns of numerous University of Louisville baseball fans going into the opening game of the Louisville Region. He’s had more than his share of shaky starts lately but hanging around this night for a 5-3 win over Illinois-Chicago.

Not a good start, not with the first batter of the game driving the ball out of the park, as did the first batter in the next inning. The visitors with a quick 3-0 lead going into the bottom the second inning.  Bennett and Coach Dan McDonnell hoping the UofL bats would awaken sometime soon.

Thankfully they would in their turn at the plate. Danny Oriente with a towering 405 foot home run over the centerfield wall to push Logan Wyatt across the plate. Zach Britton would draw a walk and score on a UIC error, tying the game at 3-3.

Bennett suddenly impossible to hit, the 6-foot-4 junior striking out the side in the third inning. Tyler Fitzgerald would lead off with a double for Louisville in the third, scoring on an error to give UofL its first lead. He would lead off with another hit in the fifth and later score on a sacrifice for the final margin.

Bennett leaving the game to a standing ovation after two outs in the sixth inning, having given up three runs on four hits, six strikeouts and two bases on balls for the night. All in a night’s work, getting Louisville off to the best possible start in NCAA action.

With a little help, of course, from reliever Michael McAvene, striking out the side in the ninth with UIC runners on second and third. That last pitch 100 miles per hour.


McDonnell trusting Bennett to get Louisville baseball off to good start

There’s Dan McDonnell again, presiding over still another NCAA Regional press conference at Jim Patterson Stadium. The eighth hosted by the baseball program in the coach’s 13-year tenure at the University of Louisville.

Then, of course, there are those five Super Regionals and those four trips to the College World Series in Omaha. Probably more to come in the not-too-distant future. But still a relief to see UofL  back in the picture after a year’s absence of not hosting a Regional.

“I don’t want ever to take success for granted,” he said. “It’s not as easy as maybe people think it looks. Lot of great players, great coaches and great support staff. I want a lot of people to feel a sense of pride in what has been accomplished. ”

The early exit from the Atlantic Coast Conference, with two lifeless losses, providing a painful reminder of how quickly things can go sour in baseball, especially against good pitching. The middle of the lineup nowhere to be found on the bases during those two games.

“We ran into two really good pitchers,” said McDonnell. “We didn’t play particularly great. Offensively, it’s nice to be home and get back to a routine.   We feel really good. We wouldn’t be in this position if our offense hadn’t produced this year.”

Nick Bennett, with a 6-3 won-lost record, will start the first game Friday at 6 p.m. against Illinois Chicago. McDonnell still feels comfortable with Bennett despite some shaky starts lately.

“We’re confident Nick is going to give us six, seven or eight innings. He has given us some really good starts this season. We have a lot of faith in him.”

The vote of confidence coming from a coach who has been there many times. 

Good Luck wishes from UofL: Student athletes encourage kids to reach goals

Two weeks ago, students from Byck Elementary welcomed special visitors that brought kind wishes, beautiful letters, words of encouragement, and great examples of how much can be achieved with hard work and dedication. These special visitors were University of Louisville student athletes, showing how vital humanitarian work, friendship, love, and care is to the community and children. 

After writing and sending over 12,000 “Good luck” letters for elementary school students, UofL student athletes decided to make one hand-delivery to Byck Elementary students. It’s not all fun and games for these young elementary school students, as they are facing KPREP testing. Luckily, these young students are not going to take these important tests without big encouragement — they have the whole UofL team cheering for them!

This inspiring project of writing “Good Luck” letters is not just an excellent thing for elementary school children. It’s also a rich experience for UofL students. Nothing unites people better and offers a more rewarding experience than helping others, and UofL student-athletes keep showing over and over again that they know that quite well!  

Hard Work and a Bit of Luck

KPREP testing is maybe the first difficult challenge that elementary school students have to face, and it’s crucial for them to feel supported and encouraged by the community. Everybody feels more encouraged when they hear honest good-luck wishes, and it’s no different with young children. Plus, nobody knows better than athletes that a bit of luck always comes in handy. Just as ancient card players expected “good hands” from the gods, athletes too sometimes expect positive vibes, good thoughts, encouragement, and some good luck wishes from the community.

For athletes, good luck can reside in some special ritual — a favorite routine. On the other hand, for card players, it is often brought by playing cards’ symbolic meanings. But for children, it flies over from warm hearts and encouraging words of the community. Moreover, it comes from inspiring words of young intellectuals that already know how success is made and how the battle is won.

A foundation for every success is built on hard work, dedication, and discipline, but luck is important too. People who are facing a challenge always feel more relaxed and confident if they feel like good luck follows them. Since the dawn of time, athletes, warriors, sailors, travelers, artists, and many more have all prayed for some good luck and greeted it with gratitude. There is a thousands-of-years-long relationship between athletes and good fortune — a bond that carries strong symbolic meaning. Now, young athletes are the ones who are sending good-luck wishes and positive vibes!

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NCAA overlooks UofL baseball’s early exit from ACC tourney

Coach Dan McDonnell with media reps at Monday’s press conference in the Omaha Room at Jim Patterson Stadium (Photo by Ed Peak).

By Ed Peak

The University of Louisville had four days to rid itself of a flat performance in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Monday’s announcement of the Cardinals as the No. 7 national seed in the NCAA baseball tournament provided still more relief.

UofL (43-15) will play Illinois Chicago (29-21) in an opening round game Friday, 6 p.m. at Jim Patterson Stadium. Indiana (36-21) will play Illinois State (34-24) at 2 p.m.

The Cardinals must thank their lucky stars the selection committee took into account the entire season or body of work. Several factors helped the Cardinals get a national seed, including a tough non conference schedule and the fact that eight ACC teams made the field.

The Cards have non conference wins over NCAA invitees Mississippi, Indiana and Cincinnati. Duke and North Carolina State were sweeps in the ACC and two of three series wins over Miami and Florida State. A loss to Vanderbilt, the No. 2 overall in the tournament didn’t hurt their RPI.
Also helpful was Louisville’s recent success in NCAA play.

“I tried to tell them don’t get caught up in the national seed. That’s for the second round,” said coach Dan McDonnell. “You just have to focus on the first round. I think it’s one of the greatest accomplishments in college baseball to be selected to host a regional.

“I congratulated them. Now let’s play good baseball and let’s see who we’re matched up with Friday night. Anything past that your wasting energy and your wasting time. Let’s focus on what we can control and that’s who we play Friday night.”