Louisville and Vandy collide

Dan McDonnell1

Just another exhilarating heart-racing season of baseball for the University of Louisville. Where it stops nobody knows, nor will they be shocked or surprised by any of the never-ending accomplishments.

Dan McDonnell just keeps doing what he does best, developing University of Louisville baseball players and winning games. In nine seasons, his teams have won 399 of them.

Three trips to the College World Series, starting with year one at UofL, and back-to-back trips the past two seasons. Best record in the Atlantic Coast Conference in his very first season, earning a top seed in the upcoming ACC baseball tournament.

McDonnell will be eyeing his 400th win when his team goes against Vanderbilt on Tuesday at Jim Patterson Stadium at 6 p.m. Louisville is No. 2 in most college baseball polls while Vandy comes in at No. 10.

Freshman righthander Kade McClure (1-0, 3.08 earned run average) will face Vandy freshman lefty Ryan Johnson (4-0, 1.94 ERA) on the mound.

The game will be streamed by ESPN3.com.

Vandy 5, Louisville 3

A familiar scene, Kyle Funkhouser having trouble finding the plate in the early innings.

Walking six batters, giving up six hits, loading the bases every other inning. Having given up four runs, settles down, hangs around for  six innings.

Worked out for him in the Regional and Super Regional, but this is the College World Series. At a stadium that has always posed major challenges for hitters, as members of the University of Louisville baseball team are well aware.

No place for uncertainty or  nerves, have to bring your best.

Right-hander Anthony Kidston, undefeated in two seasons at UofL, will face his toughest test Monday, at 3 p.m. against the University of Texas in an elimination game.

Louisville Rivals video

Louisville baseball extends amazing year

University of Louisville catcher Kyle Gibson rushes to congratulate reliever Cody Ege after the junior reliever strikes out Mike Yastrzemski to defeat Vanderbilt 2-1, sending the Cardinals to the College World Series for the second time in six seasons.

Any more wishes on that list?

National championship in basketball, BCS Sugar Bowl win in football, Atlantic Coast Conference in the conference realignment shuffle and, now, a trip to the College World Series for Dan McDonnell’s baseball team. Yes, Louisville is headed for Omaha again, and these guys aren’t going to be satisfied just getting there this time around.

"That was insane. I can't tell you how it feels to want something your entire life and then to get it. I can't describe it."

-- Jeff Gardner

Louisville defeated Vanderbilt 2-1 Sunday, improving its won-lost mark to a record 51 wins against only 12 losses this season. that’s No. 2 Vanderbilt, a team UofL had never defeated in Nashville until this weekend. The two-game sweep setting UofL for more payback, the foe being Indiana in the opening round, beginning next Saturday. IU owns a 2-1 edges on the Cards this season.

  • Jeff Thompson, three years removed from Floyd Central High School, hurling the game of his life, the big 6-foot-6 righthander going seven innings against a Vanderbilt lineup with eight hitters batting over 300. He would struggle at times, watching the bases get crowded, but regain his composure and dig his way out of trouble. He would allow only three hits while striking out nine and walking two of them, chalking up his 12th win against only one loss this season.
  • Zak Wasserman struggling at the plate all season long, managing a meager .230 batting average. The senior first baseman finding ways to get on base in the Super Regional, finding ways to get his teammates home. He would, in fact, deliver the winning blow, a single in the second inning, sending teammate Jeff Gardner across the plate.
  • Coco Johnson, beaned first in the head, then again in the neck, standing tall in the batter’s box, reaching base every trip to the plate, including two base hits. Had to be seeing stars after the first hit, but he wasn’t going to sit this one out. Just keeps crowding the plate, getting better at just the right time.
  • Jeff Gardner waiting for his pitch but never getting it, reaching base twice on walks, scoring the winning run. Also the winning quote: “That was insane,” he said after the game. “I can’t tell you how it feels to want something your entire life and then to get it. I can’t describe it.”
  • Joe Filomeno, putting away the only two batters he faces in the eighth before injuring his throwing hand, wiping away tears as he leaves the mound, pounding the rail in the dugout, pumping fists after the final pitch, throwing caution to the wind in the dog pile..
  • Cody Ege, relieving Nick Burdi in the ninth, allowing one hit, his back against the wall with two runners on base, striking out a Yastrzemski, embracing the immense pressure on his shoulders, grasping the biggest save of his college career.
  • Nick Ratajczak, nursing that injured right shoulder on the bench, his very presence a motivational force, ready to prove he is ready and able to play. It will be difficult for any UofL fan to believe otherwise.

Shades of a recent national championship team in another sport from around here. Nobody could quite figure out how they did it, but they wanted it badly, played their hearts out and achieved their goal. Their coach set high goals, and so has this one, and the result can only be achieved in Omaha.

Ratajsczak sets tone, UofL edges Vandy 5-3

Nick Ratajczak hadn’t struck out since May 4th — and that’s an eternity in college baseball.

Truth be told, Ratajczak shouldn’t have been anywhere near second base, much less in the batter’s box, in the opening game of the NCAA Super Regional at Nashville.

NIck Ratajczak
NIck Ratajczak

Playing with a severely injured right shoulder, he had rebuffed any suggestions that he wasn’t game worthy. Somehow convincing Dan McDonnell he could play, or maybe McDonnell just couldn’t, wouldn’t say no.

Ratajczak would work Vandy pitcher Kevin Ziomek for 11 pitches, including six foul balls, before going down on strikes in the third inning, clearly in excruciating pain on his eighth or ninth swing, prompting McDonnell to have serious second thoughts, sending him to the dugout.

The senior second baseman had done his job, however, serving as the inspiration for his University of Louisville teammates for a 5-3 win in the first game against second-ranked Vanderbilt on the Commodores’ home field.

With that, Louisville would win its 50th game of the season, Nick Burdi would get his 16th save, Dace Kime his sixth win, Matt Helms his second run-scoring hit this season, and the Cardinals would be within one win of returning to Omaha again for a College World Series.

The odds of Ratajczak being in the lineup again Sunday for the 4 p.m. game against Vandy are remote. The pain of not playing has to be worse than any physical ailment for Nick who, no doubt, will be waiting for a look from McDonnell to get back out there.

Whether he plays or not again in this series, or even in a Cardinal uniform, Ratajczak may have set something special in motion.

Louisville-Vanderbilt baseball on ESPN

The pause in University of Louisville athletics ends Saturday, the Cards taking on Vanderbilt in the NCAA Baseball Super Regional in Nashville. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be on ESPN. A third game, if necessary, on Monday on ESPN2.

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN) CardsTV: Listen Gametracker
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN) CardsTV: Listen Gametracker
Monday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2) – if necessary CardsTV: Listen Gametracker

Pitching matchups a llittle scary.

UofL: Jr. RHP Chad Green (10-3, 2.22 ERA)
Vandy: Jr. LHP Kevin Ziomek (11-2, 1.92 ERA)

UofL: Jr. RHP Jeff Thompson (10-1, 2.06 ERA)
Vandy: Soph. RHP Tyler Beede (14-0, 2.20 ERA)