Corey Ray, an All America outfielder who batted 325 last season, returns for his junior year.
Corey Ray, an All America outfielder who batted 325 last season, returns for his junior year.

Tears were flowing down his cheeks the last time we saw Dan McDonnell. As disappointed as we’ve ever seen him, struggling to regain his composure, one game short of a fourth trip to the College World Series.

His University of Louisville baseball team had just lost a 4-3 heartbreaker to Cal State in the 11th inning of the Super Regional. He was shocked and dejected for his players, but promising UofL fans through the tears, “We’ll be back.”

Won’t be long now. The college baseball season begins in a little over a month, with Louisville opening the 2016 season against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on February 19th. Gets earlier every year, it seems, despite wintery conditions.

Louisville will enter the season having been picked No. 2 in the nation in three different rating services — Perfect Game, D1 and Collegiate Baseball — and with four players named first-team Louisville Slugger Preseason All-Americans by Collegiate Baseball newspaper. They are junior pitcher  Zack Burdi, senior pitcher Kyle Funkhouser, sophomore pitcher/first baseman Brendan McKay and junior outfielder Corey Ray. Junior infielder Nick Solak was named to the third team.

The Cardinals return seven players who started 30 or more games last season, including players who accounted for 78 percent of runs batted in, 73 percent of  extra-base hits, 72 percent of its total hits and 70 percent of its runs. The pitching staff also returns 83 percent of its relief innings, including junior lefty Drew Harrington and freshman All-Americans Lincol Henzman and Sean Leland.

UofL students returned to campus the first week of January and the Cardinals began workouts in the Trager Center at 6 p.m. on the first day of classes. They will continue their conditioning and skill development instruction until Jan. 29, when preseason practice for the 2016 season officially begins.

Watch Dan McDonnell make good on his promise.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.