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.

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.

Al Greener enlivens atmosphere at Louisville baseball games

Al Greener's view from the press box at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Al Greener’s view from the press box at Jim Patterson Stadium.

The atmosphere engulfing University of Louisville home baseball games is contagious. A fun place to be, especially while UofL was winning 33 of 34 games at Jim Patterson Stadium this season.

Integral to the atmosphere is the organ music offered up by Al Greener, the director of the UofL Pep Band. He is part of a vanishing breed, playing the organ at college baseball games these days.

“No place I would rather be,” he said recently. “It’s a great job, doing what you love, cheering on your favorite team,”

Greener has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular songs covering several decades. He’s also got a response for every play and any situation it seems, as well as for descriptive player names and a wide range of diamond dramatics.

Continue reading “Al Greener enlivens atmosphere at Louisville baseball games”

McKay homer propels Louisville past Wake Forest

Brendan McKay clears the bases. File photo by Cincy Rice Shelton.
Brendan McKay cleared the bases with a three-run home run. File photo by Cindy Rice Shelton.

When Brendan McKay isn’t knocking scorching line drives to opposing infielders, he’s a deadly hitter. Not that he’s predictable, but there’s a noticeable shift when he’s at the plate.

McKay couldn’t have picked a better time to break the routine, sending the first pitch over the right field fence for his fourth home run of the season. The blast scored two runners in front of him, breaking a 3-3 tie, and propelling the University of Louisville to a 9-4 win at Wake Forest.

The UofL sophomore, who had his streak of reaching base safely 37 straight games broken in Thursday’s game, got back on track in the past two games, with three hits on Friday and the four-bagger on Saturday. He’s hitting .338 for the season.

Senior right-hander Kyle Funkhouser giving up a pair of home runs to Wake Forest in the first inning, giving the Demon Deacons a 3-0 jumpstart. The Cardinals would tie the game in the third inning on Danny Rosenbaum’s eighth home run, driving in Blake Tiberi.

The win was Funkhouser’s eighth this season against three losses, raising his all-time program record to 34 wins in his UofL career.

The second regular season in the Atlantic Coast Conference is in the books, with UofL winning the Atlantic Division the first two seasons in teh conference, finishing the current season 22-8 in the conference and 46-10 overall.

Louisville, the second seed behind Miami, will enjoy a first day bye for the ACC tournament, which begins Tuesday at Durham, N.C.

Louisville baseball tops Atlantic Division back to back

No. 1 in the Atlantic Division. Again.

The University of Louisville baseball team finishes the regular season on top after defeating Wake Forest 3-1 Thursday while Florida State was losing 4-2 at home to Miami.

Devon Hairston on a tear. File photo by Cindy Rice Shelton.
Devon Hairston on a tear. File photo by Cindy Rice Shelton.

Devon Hairston providing the hitting, knocking the first pitch to him over the left field wall in the second inning. He would finish the day with two hits, score two runs and drive in two runs. The home run was his third this year and he’s currently batting .370.

Brendan McKay and Zack Burdi supplying the bulk of the pitching.

McKay struck out six batters, gave up six hits but only one run in six innings. He’s 11-2 this season and 20-5 in his collegiate career. Burdi claimed his 10th save of the season, shutting down all three batters he faced in the bottom of the ninth.

The Cardinals are guaranteed one of the top two seeds in next week’s ACC Championship tournament, which kicks off Tuesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, North Carolina.