BOZICH | Go ahead and look ahead to Kentucky-Louisville baseball NCAA Super Regional
If Kentucky and Louisville win their NCAA baseball regionals, prepare for the biggest Bluegrass baseball moment ever.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When Louisville and Kentucky meet in football every November the game is edgy, emotional and entertaining.
But what’s really at stake, other than the Governor’s Cup and recruiting juice?
Not much to anybody outside the Bluegrass.
Ditto for the basketball series. Expect a vigorous 40-minute tug-of-war every December but even the team left holding the rope understands it must do something bigger and better in March.
The two most significant moments in the basketball rivalry this decade have been the Sweet Sixteen (2014) and Final Four (2012) games the Cardinals and Wildcats played. But even those would have been sexier if they had been played closer than Indianapolis (2014) and New Orleans.
The baseball rivalry between U of L and UK is officially positioned to top what we’ve seen in football and basketball. The Cardinals and Wildcats are each three (or four) victories from staging the biggest baseball moment this state has seen.
The only fine print is Louisville must win its four-team regional at Jim Patterson Stadium and Kentucky must take care of its three visitors to Cliff Hagan Stadium. Both events will be played this weekend.
If that happens, it’s on.
Kentucky vs. Louisville the following weekend at Third and Central Avenue for a trip to the 2017 College World Series.
Higher stakes than football? Yes, sir. Better local access than basketball? No question.
With no disrespect to Oklahoma, Xavier and Radford (U of L’s regional visitors) or Indiana, North Carolina State and Ohio University (UK’s regional competition), a Kentucky-Louisville super regional deserves an 11-day buildup.
Louisville has what Kentucky wants: A confirmed spot among the college baseball elite, a program that states it expects to host a regional every season and then delivers.
It’s time for me to repeat a line that I’ve written for the last 11 seasons: No Louisville coach does better work than Dan McDonnell. He runs this program as if it’s Arizona State, USC or Miami.
His teams win. His players do not embarrass the university. Every year more former Cards press forward to the major leagues.
McDonnell has been great. But he has not been flawless.
Too many times the NCAA Tournament has tasted like 3-week-old chewing tobacco for Louisville players and fans. College baseball refuses to be scripted. Teams with superior pitching, stronger hitting, dazzling facilities and storybook weather burp every spring. It happens. Ask Vanderbilt how long it took to win a national title.
Remember: College baseball’s defending national champion is not Alabama, Ohio State, North Carolina or Villanova.
It’s Coastal Carolina.
It was only last June when a Louisville team with eight MLB Draft picks, including a trio of first-rounders, failed to win a game at home against UC Santa Barbara in the Super Regional. That was a year after the Cards stalled at home against Cal State Fullerton.
If the Cardinals advance to the second weekend of this tournament and lose to You Know Who, well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks.
Kentucky, for the record, has never been to Omaha. Kentucky, for the record, was not picked to make it to Omaha when the 2017 season began.
UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart made a pitching change after last season, replacing Gary Henderson with Nick Mingione. All Mingione did was win 39 games and get himself voted the best coach in what many argue is the best conference in college baseball – the Southeastern. With a facilities upgrade on the way in Lexington, Kentucky is rounding second and headed for third.
The teams split two games in April. But those were mid-week games, not games that matched the best arms McDonnell and Mingione can send to the mound. The teams have played in a regional, but not with Omaha on the line.
Reminder: McDonnell was a rookie coach when he took the Cardinals to their first College World Series 10 years ago.
From the Louisville camp, you can expect to hear about the strong tradition of Oklahoma baseball. It’s the program that produced first-round pitchers Jon Gray and Garrett Richards. Oklahoma has big arms – and proved it by winning a series against seeded TCU in early May.
From the Kentucky camp, expect to hear about how Indiana and North Carolina State are both dangerous. The Hoosiers defeated U of L and N.C. State has won 14 of its last 17.
But so is this: If Kentucky and Louisville play a best-of-three series for a trip to Omaha and the College World Series, it will be the finest baseball moment this state has seen.
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