U of L center fielder Adam Engel and his teammates needed a pep talk from coach Dan McDonnell after the Cards lost to Vanderbilt in April.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Dan McDonnell regularly keeps his post-game chats with his University of Louisville baseball players to 10 minutes or less.
When the Cardinals lost to Vanderbilt, 10-2, in April, McDonnell lectured his players longer and louder than he had talked to them all season. An unofficial look at the stopwatch put the one-way conversation at 27 minutes.
He told Adam Engel, the Cards' center fielder, that for a guy who was supposed to be an elite outfielder, he had not seen him make many spectacular plays. He told Sutton Whiting, his shortstop, that he was not playing the position the way a shortstop on a championship team needed to play it.
"He turned and looked me right in the eye and told me how he felt," Engel said. "It's the first time he's ever done it in that fashion to me in front of the guys. You've just got to take it like a man."
"He questioned our focus and how bad we really wanted it," said Whiting. "We were ranked four early in the season. We were just buying into the hype and let it get to our heads."
Here is the hype around the Louisville baseball team this weekend: The Cardinals have won 19 of their last 21. Guess which team Louisville needs to beat twice this weekend to make the College World Series?
The team that outhit the Cardinals that night, 14-6.
The team ranked second in the nation.
The team that won 26 of 29 games in the Southeastern Conference, the league that plays the best college baseball in America.
The team that embarrassed Louisville in Patterson Stadium.
The team that made the Cardinals usually reserved coach question what his players were thinking and doing.
"It definitely was a blessing," Whiting said. "He questioned our focus and how bad we really wanted it. It was good."
"You could say that it hurt," Engel said. "But at the same time, it was more of me realizing I have a role on this team. That's to help lead. Once you get called out as a leader, you have to respond in a way that's best for the team, regardless of how it made me feel. I love playing for a coach like that."
Baseball is not considered a pep talk sport. There are too many games. There is too much failure. Playing harder does not always translate into playing better.
McDonnell was not certain how his guys would respond. He was not predicting a 16-game winning streak to finish the regular season – or a three-game sweep of the NCAA Regional that the Cardinals hosted last weekend.
But his players listened to what he said and called a team meeting in the locker room. For the first 10 minutes only a few players spoke. Eventually, everybody did. They're still speaking. With the bats and their gloves and their arms.
"We all agreed that we had worked too hard all winter to be playing the way we were playing," Whiting said.
"We needed to take a step back and realize what we needed to do to make the team better," Engel said.
Will it be enough to win twice against Vanderbilt in Nashville?
Vandy has not lost a three-game series all season.
The Commodores average more runs, hits and home runs per game than the Cardinals. Louisville steals more bases and strikes out more opposing hitters.
But who knows? Maybe Louisville needed to lose to Vanderbilt to figure out what the Cardinals had to do to beat Vanderbilt.