“I’m really proud of our fans. I was hoping we were give them one more day, one more game.”
One more game may have gotten Dan McDonnell’s baseball team into its fourth College World Series. One more out, a couple more strikes, a few less balls. What could have been.
The good news is the University of Louisville baseball team broke the 100,000 mark in attendance for the first time in the program’s history during the 2016 season.
The Cardinals attracted a total of 101,415 for 39 games, including five NCAA tournament games, or an average of 2,600 spectators per game. Total attendance for the NCAA regional games was 22,461 or 4,492 per game.
Total attendance for 34 regular season games was 78,874 or 2,330 persons per game.
The second game in a three-game series against Clemson on April 16 drew the largest crowd of the season, a total of 4,950 fans.
Second largest was 4,784 in the Super Regional final against Santa Barbara, followed by 4,770 against Western Michigan in the first game of the Regional, 4,642 against Kentucky, and 4,634 for the first game of the Super Regional against Santa Barbara.
Probably the best University of Louisville baseball team since Dan McDonnell arrived in 2007. That’s saying a lot with three College World Series appearances behind him.
Seven players batting over .300 in the starting lineup, four pitchers with nine wins or better, four with an earned run average of 2.54 or less. Three players drafted in the first round of the major league draft, a total of eight overall.
Such a good team on paper … and on the field. But baseball can be a cruel game, unforgiving much of the time, disrespecting even the best of teams. A formidable UofL baseball team is surprisingly derailed again, falling by the way side, again watching others compete for the national championship.
Such a sad way for one of college baseball’s best closers to go out. Deja vu all over again.
Zack Burdi, for a second year in a row, giving up a lead, yielding a home run to seal another 4-3 defeat of the University of Louisville in a Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium.
The 2015 defeat at the hands of Cal State Fullerton, the latest to California Santa Barbara, both cruelly denying UofL access to the College World Series. Giving up a 3-0 lead in the latest loss, a grand slam home run after Burdi had agonizingly loaded the bases.
Coach McDonnell meeting with his team for quite a while in the outfield after the game, taking longer than usual to get to the post-game press conference.
“I wouldn’t be able to get through what I told Zack,” McDonnell told the reporters at the presser. “I walked out there and hugged him. Because you know he’s hurting.
“What he and his brother (Nick) and his family have meant to this program … I am forever grateful. I just don’t want him to blame himself. It’s not fair. It’s a team game. I could have coached better. We could have scored a few more runs.”
Drew Harrington coming through with a masterful performance in his final game, pitching into the eighth inning after striking out 12 batters, giving up six hits, walking one batter and holding the visitors scoreless.
Harrington was among the first players to hug Burdi after the game. “It was tough … but he’s a tough competitor and he will fight back. I just told him I was looking forward to seeing him play at the next level.”
Sophomore Brendan McKay paced the Cardinals at the plate, going two-for-four, including a home run. Sophomore Blake Tiberi was three-of-four with a RBI double. Senior Danny Rosenbaum added two hits and drove in a run.
McDonnell, so deserving of a much better outcome, an individual loved by his players and the fans, again serving notice.
“As I said last year, you will see me again. This program will be back.”
Never take anything for granted with this University of Louisville baseball team. Overconfidence will inevitably give way to subjection, having your butt handed to you.
Heady stuff, getting seven players drafted on the first two days of the Major League Baseball draft. Some team this Louisville baseball team, loaded with good hitters and pitchers, expected to go a long way.
Even Las Vegas caught up in the expectations, making UofL a 4/1 favorite to win the NCAA baseball tournament, ahead of Miami at 9/2, Florida at 5/1, Texas A&M at 11/2 and Mississippi State at 8/1.
Brendan McKay talking two days ago about the advantages of playing at home, sticking with the routine, enjoying phenomenal fan support and all the other positives — as opposed to a West Coast team playing a baseball game at what would be 9 a.m. in its time zone.
Playing at home in the Super Regional, home sweet home, where the Cardinals had won 34 of 35 games this season.
Welcome to reality.
Louisville dropping a 4-2 decision to California Santa Barbara on Saturday before 4,634 fans at Jim Patterson Stadium. UofL baseball is one game away from being eliminated, ending one of the best seasons in the program’s history.
McKay going eight innings but giving up nine hits and four runs while dropping his fourth game against 12 losses this season. The Cardinals managing eight hits against UCSB’s Shane Bieber but unable to capitalize.
“It’s baseball,” said UofL Coach Dan McDonnell. “You tip your hat. They (UCSB) played hard. They swung and they found some holes. It’s just baseball. It’s nothing you’ll stay up late and try to dissect tonight.”
Blake Tiberi, with a couple of hits, including a home run, and Devin Hairston, also with two hits, providing UofL’s highlights. Tiberi also providing encouragement after the loss, “I don’t think we’re panicking or freaking out. I think we are ready to get back at it.”
Backs against the wall now. At least one more game, Sunday at noon. Not possible to take anything for granted.
There is some early celebrating going on at the University of Louisville baseball complex, with Corey Ray being picked No. 5 Thursday in the Major League Baseball draft.
The junior outfielder is currently batting .319 with 16 doubles and 15 home runs. He is selected by the Milwaukee Brewers to the sound of cheers from his teammates watching the draft on a flat screen in the Omaha Room.
About a half an hour later, more cheers as Zack Burdi’s name is called. The ace reliever, with 13 saves, is picked by Chicago White Sox as the 26th pick in the draft.
Shortly afterwards, more whooping as catcher Will Smith is drafted by the Los Angeles. Currently batting .380, he was the 32nd pick.
Last UofL pick of the night another biggie, Nick Solak being selected by the New York Yankees. The junior second baseman, leading the team in hitting with a .380 average, was the 62nd pick.
“As a team, we have learned to enjoy the success of our teammates,” said Coach Dan McDonnell during a press conference earlier in the day. “Being able to enjoy the success of others on our team is a huge quality component we have in our program. Enjoying the success of your teammates makes you a better player.”
McDonnell said enjoying the success of others does not always come naturally. “This is a great time for the players who get drafted tonight or over the weekend. You want to enjoy the success of our best friends, the people we spend a lot of time with.
“These are the guys who helped them get there because of the work ethic, the talent and the competition. We’re going to celebrate for them in the draft, then we’re going to pull for each other like crazy in the Super Regional.”
Members of the University of Louisville baseball team will have an opportunity to pay their respects to the late Muhammad Ali on Thursday, a day before his funeral on Friday.
Especially appropriate for the UofL team to be involved in events surrounding the farewell to the three-time heavyweight champion because he was so close to the team, currently preparing to host an NCAA Super Regional.
“As a program and as a team, we’re going to get together with Lonnie and her family because we can’t attend the funeral on Friday,” said Coach Dan McDonnell during a press conference Wednesday at Jim Patterson Stadium.
“She has been so gracious to allow the team to get together with her. I think that’s going to be a neat opportunity for our players to meet with Lonnie and help her through this time.”
Asaad Ali, the son of Muhammad and Lonnie Ali, was a member of the UofL baseball team, a catcher from 2009 to 2012. Asaad is currently an assistant coach on the baseball team at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa.
The Alis contributed a $50,000 scholarship to the baseball program. Muhammad attended numerous games over the years. Some family members intend to go to Omaha if the Cardinals get that far.
The players are also wearing an Ali patch on their caps in a tribute to the champ. The first day of the Super Regional was delayed a day to Saturday because of Ali’s funeral on Friday.