Louisville baseball resumes title chase

Editor’s Note: The college baseball season has arrived, believe it or or not, with the University of Louisville opening against UConn in the first of a three-game series at Lakeland, Fla. The series begins on Friday evening at 6 p.m. with game two set for Saturday at 3 p.m. and the finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.

By Ed Peak

Logan Wyatt couldn’t help but bring up the painful past during the University of Louisville baseball media day recently.  Specifically, his team’s loss in the Texas Tech Regional. One game away from another College World Series, the Cardinals were unceremoniously dumped 11-6 by the home-standing Red Raiders in a game that was never really that close. 

Louisville teammates Tyler Fitzgerald and Logan Wyatt discussed prospects for the 2019 season (Photos by Ed Peak).

“The ending of our season as we all know was kind of rough,” said Wyatt, one of several returning starters from the team that finished 45-19. “Following the fall season and scrimmages right now everybody’s intensity and focus seems to be heightened right now (because of last year).”

Infielder Tyler Fitzgerald echoed Wyatt’s feelings. “It’s with us a lot,” said Fitzgerald. “We talk about it every week. It was no secret we were a young team last year. We’ve got guys that will step up.

“One of our goals is we host a Regional and a Super Regional. I think that will make it a little easier on us. That was not the ending we wanted last year. It has definitely helped prepare us for the upcoming year. We know what to expect now,” said Fitzgerald.

All three games against UConn this weekend are scheduled for coverage on 93.9 The Ville.

Louisville returns a bulk of that team from last year, according to coach Dan McDonnell, and added a freshman class that could help this team get to Omaha and the College World Series for the fifth time in program history.

“When I try to put the measurables in place, what am I looking for it starts with our commitment to academics in the class room. We’re coming off a good summer. We’ve obviously got a lot of talented players returning.”

The Cardinals were ranked ninth by Street & Smith’s preseason publication. Oregon State the defending champions were ranked No 1 followed by Louisiana State, Vanderbilt, UCLA, Auburn, North Carolina, Stanford, Arkansas and Florida.

“We’ve got a bunch of leaders this year that can step up and if we keep the leaders going in the right direction we’ll be all right,” said Wyatt a junior from North Bulllitt High.

Wyatt has received some preseason accolades after batting .339 and leading the team with 69 runs batted in. His six home runs were second on the team. Danny Oriente, Drew Campbell and Jake Snider also hit 300 or higher last season. The pitching staff includes some familiar names, including Reid Detmers,  Austin Conway, Bobby Miller and Shay Smitty.  

The Cardinals are ranked in most preseason polls somewhere in the top 10. Last week Atlantic Coast Conference coaches voted UofL as the top team in the conference edging perennial power Florida State. 

“I think there’s power in saying we’re going to win a national championship,” said McDonnell. “So today’s the day to do that. Today’s the day to let the world know that’s the goal of our program. That’s what we believe in. That’s what we see happening. That’s why we work our players so hard.”

As one coach said a couple of years ago, “Louisville is the new elite program in the Midwest.”

No doubt about that.

Free admission for Louisville baseball’s first nine home games … and more

Did someone say free?

Yes, free admission is back, at least for most non-conference game at Jim Patterson Stadium for the 2019 season. The first nine games will be non-conference games for the University of Louisville baseball team.

The 2019 season gets under way on Feb. 15 with a three-game series against UConn in Lakeland, Fla. The home schedule opens with an opening game against Eastern Kentucky University on Feb. 20, followed by three games against Brown University Feb. 22-24, a game against Xavier on Feb. 26, three games against James Madison March 2-4, and Morehead State on March 6.

The schedule also includes free non-conference games against Mississippi, Alabama A&M, Western Kentucky, and Northern Kentucky.

Of course, all of UofL’s 15 Atlantic Coast Conference home games will require paid admission, as well as two non-conference games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

The 2019 reserved chairback ticket packages are priced at $110 for adults, $90 for senior adults/youths and $90 for families of four or more. Season tickets for the left field berm are $50 per ticket.

Season tickets can be purchased by calling 502-GO-CARDS or by visiting the UofL ticket office at Cardinal Stadium.

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.

Louisville makes it look almost too easy in win over Kentucky

Minimum suspense, almost too easy.

Rivalry games between the universities of Louisville and Kentucky are almost always go down to the wire. Not on Tuesday, not with UofL coasting to an easy 8-2 decision over the visiting Wildcats in front of 3,806 at Jim Patterson Stadium.

Kentucky was ranked sixth in the nation in one poll, having lost eight of their last 11 games against the Cardinals, including all four games last season. Highly motivated, but mostly frustrated in this one.

Oh, there was some drama, with UK right hander Jimmy Ramsey, a 6-foot-7  freshman, throwing a ball at Devin Mann’s head, striking him in the neck, in the bottom of the sixth. Disbelief from everyone, one of those moments when chaos could have erupted. Mann glaring at Ramsey, catching his breath, thinking about it, making the right decision, and taking the base without incident.

Louisville putting up two runs in the fourth inning, four in the fifth, and two more in the sixth for all of its eight runs. The big hit a two-run blast by Jake Snider in the decisive fifth inning. Snider would win up with three hits, two runs and two runs batted in. No bad for the son of Eric Snider, the hitting coach.

Another clutch performance by Danny Oriente, the designated hitter, coming through with two hits, including a double and a single, and two runs batted. First baseman Logan Wyatt kept under wraps by the Wildcats, reaching base four times, all on bases on balls.

UK could manage only three hits off of five Louisville pitchers, with starter Reid Detmers getting his second win. UofL had nine hits off of seven Kentucky hurlers.

The win improved UofL’s won-lost record to 25-11, and UK is now 25-12. Next up for the Cardinals is a three-game series against Virginia, with the first game at 6 p.m. on Friday.