CRAWFORD | Rite of Spring: Louisville baseball to host NCAA regional -- as No. 2 overall seed
The University of Louisville earned its highest-ever national seed heading into the NCAA baseball regional this week at Jim Patterson Stadium.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Dan McDonnell put it pretty well. His goal when he arrived to coach the University of Louisville baseball team was to give the city some spring dates to circle besides the Kentucky Derby.
Monday's NCAA Baseball Tournament selection show was just another evidence of how he and his players at U of L have accomplished that. Right out of the gate, the Cardinals were announced as the No. 2 overall seed, the highest ever for the program.
Circle these dates: Friday through Monday. They're the scheduled days for the NCAA regional to be played in Jim Patterson Stadium. Louisville opens NCAA play on Friday night at 6, right after Wright State and scarlet-hot Ohio State play at 2.
Should the Cards get through the regional round, they could well face an old friend: Vanderbilt is the No. 7 overall seed, and will advance to the Louisville Super Regional if it gets through its own portion of the bracket.
All of this has a familiar ring. Shoot, it's become a Memorial Day tradition for me. Leave whatever I'm doing, and spend some time with the baseball team at noon, when the NCAA announces its brackets.
You can set your watch by the Cardinals. They were the No. 3 national seed a year ago. They're No. 2, with as many as six Top 150 MLB Draft prospects on their roster in some projections, including a top-5 prospect in Corey Ray.
And they'll once again, for the ninth time in McDonnell's 10 seasons, host a regional or a super regional. They're 33-1 in Jim Patterson Stadium this season.
"I told our guys on the bus last night, when we knew we were hosting, just how proud I was of them," McDonnell said. "I've always said one of the greatest accomplishments of this baseball program has been the ability to host regionals. . . . To be selected by the NCAA, that's 14 weeks of weather challenges, injuries, slumps, so many curveballs and challenges, for our kids to come out having one of the better resumes in the country, as a coach, I just told them how proud I was of them."
Over the years, McDonnell and his program has built a college baseball culture. Through triumphs and heartbreaks at Patterson Stadium, what began as a small core of fans has grown and gotten into sync with the sport, its rhythms and calendar and drama.
There's no shortcut to that culture. From a coaching standpoint, McDonnell's job joins the one done by Howard Schnellenberger in not only establishing a sport at a high level at U of L, but in cultivating a community and fan base along with it.
"I said it in 2010 after we lost, how crushed everyone was, you know, fans and media and obviously last year's loss -- that's healthy," McDonnell said. "That means people care. That's what we want. When I got here, and 10 years have flown by, we wanted to give fans excited about in the spring. We love the fall sports. We love the winter, obviously, and the basketball programs. But wanted to give fans something get excited about besides the Derby. . . . We're glad we're doing our part and trying to keep our fans excited for as long as we can."
The Cards enter tournament play with a record of 47-12. They won the Atlantic Division of the ACC for their fifth straight conference regular-season title, before falling in the ACC tournament.
The Cards are batting .321 as a team, which ranks ninth nationally. Their team ERA is 3.24, which ranks seventh nationally. They are the only team in college baseball to rank in the top 10 nationally in both statistics. They rank 11th in fielding percentage and 19th in stolen bases.
Ray's 39 stolen bases rank fourth nationally and Brendan McKay, with 106 strikeouts in 96 innings pitched, is among the top 25 in that stat.
But more than the numbers, U of L athletic director Tom Jurich likes to point to geography.
Louisville is the No. 2 overall seed in a sport other than basketball. That, alone, wouldn't have been considered realistic. Now, look at the other schools that make up the top eight national seeds. Two from Florida. Two from Texas. LSU. Mississippi State. Clemson. One of these things is not like the other. Louisville is the only one of them that has any semblance of winter. Louisville isn't just the northernmost school, it's northernmost by a good distance.
"What he's been able to do here in a northern setting -- and that northern setting is not to be taken lightly -- I was on the baseball committee for five years and I remember how difficult it was just to get teams into the tournament, that would commit to it," Jurich said. ". . . Nebraska was really a breakthrough team to get in. So what he has done is unbelievable."
After last season, when a heartbreak disputed home run by Cal State Fullerton cost the Cards a shot at a trip to Omaha, they’ve been pointing toward this tournament.
"We know after last year, playing at home is no guarantee," Ray said. "We're going to have to earn it."
But McDonnell promised after that game that the Cards would be back. And here they are.
SCHEDULE AND TICKET INFORMATION:
Friday, June 3 | (ESPN3)
Game 1: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Wright State - 2 p.m.
Game 2: No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 4 Western Michigan - 6 p.m.
Saturday, June 4 | (ESPN3)
Game 3: Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser - Noon
Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner - 4 p.m.
Sunday, June 5 | (ESPN3)
Game 5: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Loser - Noon
Game 6: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner - 4 p.m.
Monday, June 6 | (ESPN3) - If necessary
Game 7: Game 6 Loser vs. Game 6 Winner - 4 p.m.
All times are Eastern Daylight Savings
2016 NCAA Regional - Louisville, Ky. - Ticket Information
• On sale now by ordering online at GoCards.com
• Available in-person or by phone starting Tuesday 9 a.m. ET
• Reserved Chairback: $70
• College Student (with ID): $45
• On sale starting Thursday 9 a.m. ET
• Available online at GoCards.com or in-person (no phone orders) at Louisville Cardinals Ticket Office at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
• Tickets will be available at Jim Patterson Stadium starting Friday at noon ET
• Reserved Chairback: $15
• Berm/General Admission: $10
• College Student (with ID): $5
Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.