LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville baseball team will play host to Kennesaw State University in this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium. Kennesaw State is one of a handful of Cinderellas to advance in this year’s baseball tournament, but the Owls haven’t been in the Cinderella role for long. To learn more about U of L’s super regional opponent, read on . . .
1. Founded in 1963 in the north Atlanta suburbs as a junior college with just over 1,000 students, Kennesaw State is relatively new. But it’s not small. It is the third-largest public university in Georgia, with a total enrollment of 24,604 and an undergraduate enrollment of 22,684. (Louisville’s total enrollment is 21.239 and its undergraduate count is 15,724). Kennesaw State accepts 54 percent of its applicants for admission. Louisville accepts 71 percent.
2. Kennesaw State made its name in athletics at the NCAA Division II level in the Peach Belt Conference, where it became one of the nation’s top D-2 programs across the board before converting to Division I in all sports 2009-10. (They’ve been Division I in baseball since 2006.) The Owls became one of only two programs to win Division II national titles in four sports, with championships in men’s basketball, baseball, women’s soccer and softball.
3. KSU and U of L have some off-the-field connections. Ty Pennington, host of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, is a Kennesaw State product. He met U of L’s Patrick Henry Hughes in 2007 when Hughes and his family had their home remodeled for the show. There are also some political connections. Former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate Newt Gingerich and U.S. Congressman Bob Barr are visiting professors at Kennesaw State. Current senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is a U of L alum, and his papers are housed there.
4. The most famous product of Kennesaw State, however, is Ryan Seacrest, who has 12.6 million Twitter followers. Beat that.
5. The Owls baseball program has won at every level in which it has competed. It won the Division II national championship in 1996, just two years after winning an NAIA national title. It won a regional championship in its first appearance in Tallahassee, becoming the first NCAA team to do that since 1993. All four previous teams to win a regional in their first trip have gone on to the College World Series.
6. As Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said, the Owls have “star power.” Their top player, catcher Max Pentecost, leads the nation with 110 hits and is second nationally with a .423 batting average. “He’s a five-tool player, who could go in the Top 5 picks, Top 10 at worst,” McDonnell said. “And anytime you have a player like that there’s a trickle down effect. It makes everybody else better. It makes everybody raise their game.” U of L standout Jeff Gardner played with Pentecost in the Cape Cod League last summer. “He was a real good friend of mine this summer, a good fishing partner,” Gardner said. “He’s about to be a first-rounder, and I know he can lead those guys because he’s done it all year.”
7. The Owls began the season 13-18, but that was before The Belt. If you’re looking for the motivational key for this team’s turnaround, give an assist to assistant coach Trey Fowler, who proposed giving the MVP of every game a pro-wrestling style belt, that would be passed on after each game. Kennesaw State has gone 27-4 since then, including a nation’s longest 16-game winning streak.
8. Kennesaw State coach Mike Sansing is in his 23rd year at the school, with a pair of national titles and a couple of NCAA Division II runner-up finishes. He is closing in on 900 career victories. When he took over at Kennesaw State, they didn’t have a stadium, or much else. But he has built the program into a winner, and spurned opportunities to try his hand elsewhere.
9. Sophomore Travis Bergen is the ace of the pitching staff, and is coming off Regional MVP honors in Tallahassee. After winning the opening game against Alabama, he came back on short rest to earn the win in relief in the decisive game, throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings. He hasn’t given up a run since March 10, a span of four straight appearances. He’s 9-4 on the season with an earned run average of 2.39. In 94 innings he’s struck out 74 and walked 13. The Owls also have a shut-down closer, Justin McCalvin, who hasn’t given up a run in his last five relief appearances.
10. Kennesaw State also is one of the nation’s top hitting teams, ranking in the Top 25 nationally in both batting average and hits. Two weeks ago, the Owls earned their first national ranking in Division I, at No. 27 from Collegiate Baseball magazine. This week, they come to Louisville ranked No. 12.