CRAWFORD | Louisville baseball to start NCAA Tournament 'under the radar'
The University of Louisville baseball team will head to Lubbock, Texas, for a 7 p.m. Friday matchup against Kent State in the NCAA Tournament.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – University of Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell had a dejected young team on the bus and in the airport after Sunday’s 11-8 extra-inning loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament championship game.
The Cards had rallied from four down to go up 8-5, then lost the lead and their first title game in ACC play. But McDonnell didn’t take long to sound an upbeat tone.
On the bus, he said he told them, “Monday, about 230 schools would not hear their name called. To be one of the 64 in the NCAA Tournament is an honor and a privilege that we don’t want to take for granted.”
On Monday, the team gathered in the Omaha Room of the Jim Patterson Stadium complex to learn that it had been selected as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals (43-17) will travel to Lubbock, Texas, to face Kent State (39-16) in the Texas Tech Regional in a game scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. Host Texas Tech (39-17) will face New Mexico State (40-20) in the other half of the regional at 2 p.m.
It’s the first time in five years that U of L hasn’t played host to a regional, but this was expected to be a different kind of year for the Cardinals, who lost eight players to the 2017 MLB Draft and eight players to the 2016 Draft. McDonnell has six sophomores in his starting lineup, but said he was determined not to let the team buy into the mentality that it couldn’t do the things that more experienced teams had done in recent seasons.
He gave them the motto, “I dare you,” and over the past month, the Cardinals have taken up the dare, averaging better than eight runs per game and winning 15 of their final 19.
“I just didn’t want this group to buy into the excuses -- lost a lot to the draft, maybe a little too young, maybe a little too inexperienced,” McDonnell said. “I thought it was my job to let this group know I believe in them, and get them to believe in themselves. . . . I challenged and pushed these guys. Like I told them on the bus last night, I believed at the beginning of the season this group could win a national championship. Thirty-one games into it I brought out some records and talked about the history of the last three teams that have won the championship, and I told them on the bus last night that I believe as strongly in this team as I ever have. So they need to believe in themselves, they need to continue to believe in each other and stick together and keep doing what they’re doing.”
The challenge will be a bit different, with a long road trip ahead this season in the NCAA Tournament. At least they’re in a regional with a team they’ve faced before. Louisville and Texas Tech split a series at Jim Patterson Stadium in mid-March. The Cards also are familiar with Kent State, having played the Golden Flashes in past seasons and having seen them in NCAA regionals in Louisville.
“We’ve been honored to host regionals, but you’re not going to be able to host every year,” McDonnell said. “Programs like LSU and others even sometimes have to go on the road. It’s an opportunity and a challenge for us. We’ve played Texas Tech, so we know how good their program is and we got to see them first hand, two tough games. But you realize at this point that everybody is really good. We’ve got Penn State, they’re from our part of the country, they’ve played in Omaha, they’ve played in our regional, so we know how good they are. So our main focus is going to be on a really good Kent State team, then we’ll see who else we play in that regional.”
One challenge in Lubbock will be the weather. Temperatures on Friday are expected to reach above 100 degrees.
“We always talk about hydrating at this time of year, I don’t care if you’re playing in Louisville or Omaha,” McDonnell said. “We have a little saying in our program, I’ll talk about the temperature today, and the response is always one thing: ‘Good.’ That’s the way we look at everything. Fifty degrees or 105? ‘Good.’ That’s the way we’ll approach it.
After being a big favorite to reach Omaha the past two seasons, McDonnell said he’ll enjoy the role the program finds itself in heading to Lubbock. It has had some success in recent years after losing in the conference tournament. He’s hoping that experience can light a fire again.
“Each year has its own character to it, and this is who we are this year,” he said. “A little bit under the radar and maybe a little bit of the underdog and a little bit of the chip on your shoulder. My positive of yesterday is maybe we’ll have enough of an edge about us. We’ve lost in conference tournaments before and bounced back and looked really good in the postseason. Something I thought of yesterday was that while we weren’t celebrating at the airport, and it was a tough loss, hopefully that’ll keep an edge to us. We need to have a really good week of practice and get to the details and fundamentals. . . . But we feel like we’ve been playing tournament baseball for the last month.”
Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.