LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — In this state, the madness has continued all the way into May.
The NCAA baseball regional at the University of Louisville’s Jim Patterson Stadium got a shot of local adrenaline Monday, when the NCAA announced that host U of L and rival University of Kentucky will be on opposite sides of the four-team tournament.
And when these two programs meet, in anything, it raises the stakes.
But U of L coach Dan McDonnell said both programs getting to play close to home — with the possibility of facing each other — should only help both, and the sport of baseball in Kentucky.
“I think it’s really neat for baseball in this state,” McDonnell said. “If we weren’t a host and they were hosting a regional one year, why wouldn’t I want to go there? For our fans, our families, our friends. I think it creates a great atmosphere in our regional. So it should be an exciting weekend.”
UK (35-23) will make its eighth trip to the NCAA Tournament and face Kansas (34-24) in Friday’s first game at 2 p.m. U of L (45-15), which is playing host to a regional for the second straight year and fifth time in eight seasons, will face Kent State (36-21) in Friday’s second game at about 6 p.m.
U of L gets away from frequent postseason rival Vanderbilt, but picks up with its natural rival in UK. The Wildcats swept both regular-season meetings, beating the Cardinals 8-3 in Lexington and 4-2 in Louisville. Neither team throws its best pitchers in those midweek series, but McDonnell said it helps to play them in terms of the teams familiarizing themselves with the other lineup.
Louisville senior Jeff Gardner said both teams will likely throw those games out.
“You can take something away from them,” Gardner said. “But it’s a different approach to midweek games, for both teams. I think you’ll see both teams approaching these like a big conference game. It will be different, but with the atmosphere it would be fun if we faced them.”
No. 2 seed UK equaled its best-ever finish in the SEC Tournament last week, and comes into NCAA competition hitting .302 as a team with a .453 slugging percentage. A.J. Reed leads the nation in home runs with 23 and in slugging percentage .768.
No. 1 seed U of L is second in the nation in wins and is coming off a runner-up finish to Houston in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The Cardinals were down after that loss, but quickly were cheered up when they learned they would be hosting a regional before returning to town by plane.
The Cardinals are 37-0 this season when taking a lead to the ninth inning, and have won 92 straight when leading after eight dating back to the 2012 season. Junior closer Nick Burdi is a big part of that. The Cards are led at the plate by Gardner, the AAC player of the year.
Both Louisville and Houston made the NCAA Tournament field. The SEC led all conferences with an NCAA-record 10 teams making the field.
“You see Clemson have to play South Carolina, you see Texas A&M and Texas having to play,” McDonnell said of the rivalry coming in such a high-stakes meeting. “It excites the fans, more than anything, and whenever you put more fans in the seats, it’s great for the college game. We really respect those guys. Love the rivalry. And let’s hope we get a chance to play each other. But again, we’ve got to worry about Kent State and they’ve got to worry about Kansas.”
Kentucky is familiar with Kent State. The two teams met in the Gary, Ind., regional two years ago when Kent State beat the Wildcats in 21 innings in the opener and then again 5-2 in the regional final.
“Fans are going to look at the rivalry, but all we can do is focus on Kent State,” Burdi said. “It’s just great for us to have the opportunity to play at home, sleep in our own beds, and in front of our fans.”
The winner of Friday's first round games will play on Saturday at 4 p.m., while the two losing teams will play an elimination game on Saturday at noon. The winner of Saturday's elimination game will play the losing team from Saturday night's winner's bracket game in an elimination game on Sunday at noon, with the winner advancing to play the winner of Saturday night's winner's bracket game on Sunday at 4 p.m. If needed, the two teams from Sunday’s second game will return for the final game of the Louisville Regional on Monday at 6 p.m. Gates at Jim Patterson Stadium will open one hour prior to the scheduled first pitch for the first game each day of the Louisville Regional.
All-session tickets for the 2014 NCAA Regional in Louisville will be available online here starting Sunday evening or can be purchased by phone (502-GO-CARDS) through the UofL Ticket Office starting Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., ET. All-session tickets for the four-team, double-elimination regional are $70 for reserved chairback seats and $45 for college students.
All of the games will be televised online only, at ESPN3.com.