College Preview Capsules: No. 2 Louisville

No. 2 LouisvilleLouisville
2015 Record (Ranking): 47-18 (10). RPI: 12.
Coach (Record at school): Dan McDonnell (406-177, 9 years).
Postseason History: 9 regionals (active streak: 4), 3 CWS trips (last in 2014), 0 national titles.

Before the 2013 season, Louisville coach Dan McDonnell challenged the Cardinals that they would go to Omaha three years in a row—that they would position themselves among the elite programs in college baseball.

They nearly pulled it off, going to the College World Series in 2013 and 2014 before a feisty Cal State Fullerton team denied them a third trip in the Louisville Super Regional last year.

2016 Lineup
C Will Smith, Jr. .242 .333 .331 2 15 2
1B Brendan McKay, So. .308 .418 .431 4 34 4
2B Nick Solak, Jr. .324 .416 .439 3 40 18
3B Blake Tiberi, R-So. .261 .330 .424 4 18 1
SS Devin Hairston, So. .212 .274 .275 1 32 2
LF Corey Ray, Jr. .325 .389 .543 11 56 34
CF Logan Taylor, Jr. .358 .451 .448 1 13 8
RF Colin Lyman, Jr. .059 .200 .088 0 1 2
DH Danny Rosenbaum, Sr. .270 .370 .389 2 14 1
Pos. Name, Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Kyle Funkhouser, Sr. 8 5 3.20 112 104 0
LHP Brendan McKay, So. 9 3 1.77 97 117 0
LHP Drew Harrington, Jr. 3 1 0.29 31 42 4
RP Zack Burdi, Jr. 6 1 0.92 29 30 9

This season, the Cardinals have moved on to a new challenge.

McDonnell’s visions of an elite program have been realized—the Cardinals have been to Omaha three times and super regionals five times in his nine years as head coach. They’re in the conversation every season. But the players no longer want that conversation to end at just “Omaha.”

“They all talk about winning a national championship,” McDonnell said. “I always let the kids pick the goals . . . I feel blessed that I get to wake up every morning and coach a group of kids whose goal is that. I don’t want to take that for granted and let this opportunity pass us by. It’s our job to help this group achieve that.”

By all means, Louisville has the weapons necessary to achieve it. Outside of No. 1 Florida, there isn’t a team in the country with as much depth, talent and experience.

The starting lineup boasts a senior and five juniors, including five-tool outfielder Corey Ray, who could be the first college position player taken in the 2016 draft. Ray led off for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team this summer, and McDonnell said Ray could move up to the No. 1 or No. 2 hole in Louisville’s lineup to better utilize his speed. Ray is joined by fellow junior second baseman Nick Solak, a Cape Cod League all-star, and reigning Freshman of the Year Brendan McKay to form a formidable offensive core.

McKay, who also played for Team USA in the summer, is better known for what he can do on the pitcher’s mound, going 9-3, 1.77 his freshman year with his low-90s fastball and swing-and-miss curve. He’d lead the rotation if not for the unexpected return of senior righthander Kyle Funkhouser, whom the Dodgers took with the 35th overall pick in 2015 after a modest finish to his season (the team lost four of his last six starts). The highest draft pick in Louisville baseball history said he came back to complete his degree and with the knowledge that he can improve his craft.

He also knows this Louisville team has the chance to do something special.

“Right there that kind of sends a message to the rest of the players,” McDonnell said. “‘Oh wow, this guy knows how good we could be. This guy passed up signing in the first round to come back to school. Wow, what does that say about his belief in this team?’”

Funkhouser might grab the headlines, but Louisville has high-end talent across the board, and McDonnell said he believes his bullpen, led by flamethrowing righthander Zack Burdi, could be among the best in the country.

“I think you could argue, for enjoyment’s standpoint, which is better—the pitching or the hitting?” McDonnell said. “And I think you could make great arguments on both sides.”

There’s no arguing that Louisville has the look of an Omaha-bound squad.

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