Louisville baseball begins another title chase on Friday

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.”
Louisville returns seven starters to from its every day lineup and the bulk of its pitching staff led by Adam Wolf, Nick Bennett and Bryan Hoeing.

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 rbi’s. 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 Adam Elliott, Sam Bordner, who battled injuries last season, Austin Conway and Shay Smitty. Reid Deters and Bobby Miller will be in the mix.

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.

Louisville women sock UConn, 17,023 rock the Yum!

Louisville’s Asia Durr is embraced by UConn Coach Geno Auriemma following UofL’s win (top photo). The Louisville bench erupts following one of five 3-pointers by Dana Evans. Below, UofL Coach Jeff Walz thanks the crowd of 17,023 for all the support (Cindy Rice Shelton photos). 

A long time between wins, so many futile efforts, numerous beatings at the hands of UConn over two decades.  Two days before Ground Hog Day, concern and fear about another possible blowout. Been there in many of those 17 straight losses.

The largest crowd to see a women’s college basketball game of 17,023 were on hand at the KFC Yum! Center.

In the past, hang with them for a couple of baskets, throw the ball away a couple of times, and wave goodbye. That scenario quickly coming to mind with UConn jumping out to a 6-2 lead. Here we go again?

Not this time, not with this year’s edition of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Not even with leading scorer Asia Durr being held scoreless in the first quarter, missing all four of her field goal attempts. Not to worry, Jazmine Jones, Sam Fuehring and Dana Evans were taking up the slack, unfazed by the opponent, giving Asia time to find her shooting touch.

No intimidation, no regrets, no coulda, woulda, shoulda’s this time around, a premier performance in front of a national ESPN television audience and a crowd of 17,023 fans at the KFC Yum! Center. Third-ranked Louisville handing second-ranked UConn a 78-69 defeat, their second loss of the season. Improving their own record to 20-1 in the process.

“At the end of the first quarter, Asia was sitting there on the chair and I told her to smile,” said Coach Jeff Walz. “Put a smile on your face. It’s 21-21 and you’ve got great teammates. Embrace that and enjoy it.

“She smiled and said, yes, I do have great teammates. She is so unselfish and special, and that’s what makes her such a good player.”

Durr would warm up quickly in the second quarter, hitting her first 3-pointer in the first 54 seconds. She would follow that up with three more 3-pointers and 14 of her team’s 19 points to give UofL a 40-38 lead at the half. She would lead all scorers with 24 points for the game.

Evans would wind up with 20 points, including five 3-pointers. Fuehring and Jones would each have double-doubles — Fuehring with 10 points and 12 rebounds, Jones with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“It was a huge win for our program,” said Walz. “We haven’t beaten them in 26 years and they’re 206-5 over the past four seasons. Think about that. I’m excited to be 55-4 over the same stretch. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do so, yes, it’s a huge win for our program.”

UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, unaccustomed to losing basketball games, was in a state of shock at the post-game press conference, saying his two-loss team had a lot to learn. “We made a lot of mistakes tonight and Louisville took advantage of every one of them,” he said. “We struggle with teams that have the size and quickness that Louisville has.”

Auriemma said UofL players play well together, they know their roles and play good defense. “Jeff has built a tremendous program here,” he concluded.

Photo gallery by Cindy Rice Shelton:

Familiar script for Louisville women against UConn

The big stage, the bright lights blinding and numbing, the touring actors fumbling their lines, trying to ad lib their way.

Panic time in those first 10 minutes, the University of Louisville women’s basketball team committing nine turnovers, missing 12 of 14 field goal attempts. UConn up 24-6 after the first quarter. Game over.

Familiar script against the Huskies. Starts out innocently enough, with a turnover leading to a quick UConn basket. Between all the empty trips down court for the Cardinals, there is one turnover, another and still another, the Huskies converting all of them into points. 

The outcome never in doubt after the initial surge although the margin was only 11 points in UConn’s 69-58 win over visiting Louisville in front of 10,000-plus. Just another night at Gampel Pavillion where the Huskies have won 76 straight home games.

Some might find some consolation in the fact that the UofL women outscored UConn 38-27 in the second half. They would have to acknowledge that the Huskies were never seriously threatened. Had they been, would there have been still another surge?

Coach Jeff Walz may have convinced his pupils that they could play with UConn after the first quarter, and they did hang around.  By then it was too late, his charges totally unprepared and unequipped to handle the initial mugging.

Lots of talk after the game about the Cardinals having learned some lessons and knowing what they had to work on the rest of the season. You know, just in case they run into UConn during the post-season. 

The Cardinals obviously learned a lot about themselves, absorbing one blow after another to their collective psyche. Pretty obvious that it’s going to take more than just trading baskets with UConn for a couple of quarters to ever seriously threaten the Huskies.

UConn defies the implausible

So I was wrong. No tears in sight.

All’s well that ends well: UConn 60, Kentucky 54.

Unbelievable, the inconceivable run was for real. Implausible it seemed, unimaginable, improbable, unthinkable, mind-boggling.

UConn in the NCAA winner’s circle, cutting the nets, lifting the trophies. Kentucky the runner up, having come together when it counted, coming close, but falling short.

Congratulations to the Huskies, congratulations to the American Athletic Conference, congratulations to all underdogs everywhere.

The Huskies adding to their list of national championships: 1999, 2004, 2011 and, now, 2014.

The University of Louisville basketball program proudly passes the championship mantle to University of Connecticut. Last team standing in 2014.

Louisville sets sights on NCAA after claiming AAC crown

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Somebody ordered ladders to be placed under the baskets Saturday following the championship game of the American Athletic Conference tournament. The ladders not needed, a waste of time, in fact, because the University of Louisville basketball team only cuts nets once a year or not at all.

“We don’t cut down conference championship nets,” said Luke Hancock after UofL’s 71-61 win over UConn.

The defending national champions, having won the conference tournament in UofL’s first and final year in the conference tourney, obviously have their sights sets on a much higher goal. They are playing their best basketball as the selection committee meets behind closed doors to set the brackets for the 2014 edition of the NCAA Tournament.

Based on his team’s performance during February and March, Rick Pitino has good reason to believe UofL deserves a No. 1 seed. The Cardinals have won 13 of their last 14 games, many of them going away, five of the wins over top 25 teams.

Not that the No. 1 seed is the be all and end all, but a top seed would indicate that some of the decision makers have been watching the games, paying attention to results instead of relying solely on ESPN’S Joe Lunardi.

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Montrezl Harrell just continued to get better in the championship game, becoming one of those players against which all future power forwards at Louisville will be measured. A singular example of how the position should be played. Never allowing himself to get muscled out or pushed around, he thrives on being in the middle of the action, imposing his will, alway looking to make a exclamation point.

So energetic and dominant Saturday that Pitino let him play 39 minutes. Why replace a player who never gets tired and only seems to get more forceful and stronger as the game progresses? Harrell would turn in a game-high 22 points while claiming 11 rebounds.

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Russ Smith was letting the game come to him, rather than the other way around, but respondiing time after time when UConn begins cutting into the lead.  Seemed to be feeling some after effects from three straight games, with three or four air balls, but still connecting on seven of 18 shots, including one three-pointer, while collecting 19 points.

Smith’s point of emphasis Saturday was on the defensive end, he and Chris Jones totally frustrating  UConn’s offensive rhythm, allowing Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright one three 3-pointer, and holding them to 16 and 7 points, respectively.

No surprise Russ was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after providing of the most spectacular offensive displays seen in college basketball this season over three days.