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.

Bordner cuffs Texas A&M batters, Louisville advances in CWS

One will not find Sam Bordner in any listings of 2017 All-America baseball teams. Nor on any All-Atlantic Coast Conference teams either. Not even honorable mention in either of those groupings.

Sam Bordner has given up no runs and one hit in 11 innings of relief in his last four appearances (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

But Dan McDonnell knows where to locate Bordner when one of his starting pitchers is tiring. He will find the 6-foot-6, 240-pound sophomore in the University of Louisville bullpen, cool, calm, collected, ready to go.

As in UofL’s opening game in the College World Series on Sunday. Starter Brendan McKay had given up three straight hits, Texas A&M cutting Louisville’s lead to 5-4 in the sixth inning. Bordner will do what he usually does, shutting down the next three Aggie batters 1-2-3.

Over the next two innings he will hold A&M hitless, not allowing anyone on base. Handing the ball off to Lincoln Henzman in the ninth inning. Louisville will win its opening game 8-4, ending a five-game losing streak in the CWS.

“I think Sam’s been the X factor, a little under the radar,” McDonnell said after the game. “When you’re in that first out-of-the-bullpen or middle relief role, it’s just not as sexy, and you don’t get as much attention. But clearly Sam’s been hot all year.”

The Cardinals (53-10) had used six singles and a walk to build a 5-0 lead in the second inning, with Devin Hairston, Collin Lyman and Colby Fitch contributing run-scoring singles. Fitch winding up with two hits, a walk and four runs batted in. 

 

Devin Hairston just keeps on delivering for UofL Baseball

Devin Hairston is the man you want at the plate with UofL runners on base (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“When the lights are on, Devin Hairston’s the guy you want at the plate.”

The word coming from Dan McDonnell, coach of the University of Louisville baseball team following a 7-5 win in a game that clinched two out of three in a series against Wake Forest over the weekend.

That’s saying something when your team has players like Brendan McKay, with a hefty .388 batting average, and Drew Ellis, currently hitting .364. They get the attention of the professional scouts. Hairston gets the job done with runners on base.

Hairston is leading the team in runs batted in with 36 of them through 31 games. He is followed by Colby Fitch with 27, Ellis with 25, McKay with 22, Devin Mann and Logan Taylor with 21, and Colin Lyman with 16.

“Devin is just very even keel,” said McDonnell. “He just very confident in his ability as he should be. He’s just competing, he’s grinding out, he’s very consistent. When the lights are on, he has those very good at-bats.”

Hairston, who is currently batting .325, had three hits and drove in four runs, including a game-clinching two-run double in the eighth inning before a crowd of 4,056 at Jim Patterson Stadium. It was UofL’s 31st consecutive series win at home, including 13 straight against Atlantic Coast Conference foes.

“I’m really happy for him, and I’m happy for our guys,” said McDonnell. “We showed a lot of toughness today.”

The Cardinals are now 27-4 overall and 12-3 in the ACC. Clemson, meanwhile, moved into first place in the Atlantic Division with a 13-2 mark following a weekend sweep of Virginia Tech.

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.