LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Without a pitch being thrown or a game being played, the University of Louisville had one of the most historic nights in program history Thursday, with three players taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft and four taken overall in the first two rounds.

Only top-ranked Florida had more players selected in the first two rounds.

Outfielder Corey Ray went No. 5 to the Milwaukee Brewers, followed by closer Zack Burdi at No. 26 to the Chicago White Sox and catcher Will Smith to the Los Angeles Dodgers at No. 32. Second baseman Nick Solak went to the New York Yankees in the second round, with pick No. 62.

Those three first-rounders were the first, second and third-highest picks ever for the Louisville baseball program.

On top of that, pitcher and first baseman Brendan McKay was named one of five finalists for the Dick Houser Trophy, awarded to college baseball’s best player. And Burdi was named a finalists for college baseball’s Stopper of the Year award.

It’s the kind of night when recruiting brochures are born. The Twitter feed for U of L baseball recorded the progress, pick by pick. With players watching on a big screen in the Jim Patterson Stadium Omaha Room, each call of a U of L name drew a huge eruption. You know you’ve done all right when the MLB Network has a graphic with your four picks. (See photo at right)

I kept waiting for baseball coach Dan McDonnell’s pronouncement of the “greatest night in U of L baseball history,” but none came. In fact, there was no statement from McDonnell.

But two days ago, McDonnell said the draft is always a celebratory moment for his team — even if it does present a challenge in the middle of preparations for a Super Regional, or sometimes in the middle of the playoff itself.

“It's a celebration,” McDonnell said. “As we always say, we'd rather be one of the 16 teams thst have to deal with it than the other 280 or so that don't have to deal with it. For our kids, they see it every year. We've been on a bus to Super Regional and get drafted, we've had guys in the bullpen warming up get drafted and, of course, last year we had Funk (Kyle Funkhouser) getting drafted in game three of the Super Regional. So we've seen a little bit of everything, and knowing how much these guys care for each other and love each other, I just think it's . . . a really neat celebration. Not for just those getting drafted, but I think their teammates . . . have as much fun cheering them on and getting excited as to what pick they are and what team takes them.”

Ray became the highest-ever Major League Baseball Draft pick from U of L when he went with the fifth overall pick to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Atlanta Braves had been rumored to be considering Ray with the No. 3 pick, but passed on him to give him an opportunity with Milwaukee, just 90 miles from his hometown of Chicago.

Ray has shot up the draft board during an All-American junior season in which he has batted .319 with 15 homers and 60 runs batted in, with 44 stolen bases in 52 attempts.

On Wednesday, a day before the draft, Ray was asked if he’d thought about the life-changing money being drafted would mean to him. Ray said he thought about something else.

“I think about the first camp I’ll run in Chicago," Ray said. "That’s a big goal of mine, to help those guys from Chicago - or any inner city. I know how tough it is, being a product of it. I’ll help in any way I can."

Burdi, known for a fastball that reaches 100 mph, has 11 saves with 46 strikeouts and just seven walks on the season. A two-time All-American and All-ACC honoree, the hard-throwing righthander ranks second at Louisville with 20 career saves.

Smith, a hometown product who graduated from Kentucky Country Day, moved up perhaps more than any player in the first round. He’s a good-hitting catcher — .380 with 7 home runs an d43 RBI in 44 games. He also showed this season that he could handle pitchers and manage games, and threw out 12 of 26 baserunners attempting to steal. 
Solak is a solid-hitting second-baseman, at .380 with 14 doubles, 29 RBI and 49 runs scored.

“At the end of the day this is something they've dreamed about their whole life,” McDonnell said Tuesday. “And as coaches, more importantly, it's about making sure they're prepared. We can't control what your pick is and what your signing bonus is; we can have an impact as to having you ready to compete at the next level, and our coaches have done a great job helping our kids get ready to compete at the next level.”

The Cards have several other players who expect to be drafted in rounds 3-10 on Friday, including senior pitcher Kyle Funkhouser, who was the highest draft pick not to sign a contract after passing on a $1.7 million deal with the Dodgers as the 35th overall pick last year.

Blake Tiberi and pitcher Drew Harrington also figure to be selected.

The Cardinals begin Super Regional play at home on Saturday at noon, taking on Cal Santa Barbara. The sportsbook at Bovada.lv has made U of L the favorite to win the College World Series later this month.

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