College basketball’s annual postseason has a well known reputation for being “mad.” Despite all the marketing centered around the madness of March, it’s probably the NCAA basketball tournament’s baseball brethren that’s more deserving of the adjective.
Eight teams earn national seeds at the start of baseball’s NCAA tournament. In 2016, only two of those eight powerhouses ended up making it through the regional and super regional rounds to Omaha for the College World Series. And while college basketball prides itself on giving Cinderella a chance, it’s college baseball that has actually seen the little guy capture the sport’s top prize. A year ago, Coastal Carolina from the lowly Big South took down the likes of Florida, TCU and Arizona to win the national title. In 2008, Fresno State, a No. 4 seed – the lowest seed in the NCAA baseball tournament and the equivalent of a 13-16 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament – won it all.
The point is that college baseball’s postseason comes with even fewer guarantees than the single-elimination basketball tournament that captivates this area for one month every year.
Dan McDonnell’s Louisville Cardinals know this all too well. In each of the last two seasons, UofL has carried a national seed and legitimate hopes of a national title into the postseason. And in each of the last two seasons, the Cardinals have been stunned on their home field in the super regional round by a California school out of the Big West Conference.
There are no guarantees. That doesn’t mean you should be unwilling to give your attention and your heart to the Louisville baseball team for the next several weeks.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, Louisville has already set a new program record for wins in a single season, eclipsing the mark that its 2010 and 2013 teams set. The second-ranked Cardinals have claimed the Atlantic Division title for the third consecutive year and will be the favorite and top seed at next week’s ACC Tournament at Louisville Slugger Field. UofL also has the greatest weapon in the country in dual-threat superstar Brendan McKay, a player who very well might be the No. 1 overall pick in next month’s Major League Baseball Draft.
What McDonnell has done at Louisville has been nothing short of miraculous. He inherited a program that had been to just one NCAA tournament and never won a game in the big dance, and then took them to the College World Series in his first year. He has taken the Cardinals to Omaha two more times since and now has UofL on the verge of being the only team in the country to earn a national seed in each of the last three NCAA tournaments.
Louisville baseball was not “a thing” before 2007. It’s absolutely a thing now.
“Dan has made the postseason a two-week annual holiday around here,” Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich said. “That’s fantastic because college baseball is a tremendous sport. There are a lot of people within college athletics who will tell you that the College World Series is the best event in college sports, better than the Final Four and better than bowl games.”
Cardinal fans who have yet to experience Omaha would like to find that out for themselves next month. They’d also like for their stay to be more than just a couple of days.
What Louisville baseball has become over the last decade is remarkable, there’s no arguing otherwise. There are some, however, who won’t be satisfied until the program takes that toughest of final steps and claims a national title. Or at least plays its way deep into the College World Series.
UofL’s past two super regional disappointments and its 1-6 record in three appearances at the College World Series have some taking a wait-and-see approach into this season’s home stretch. I would urge you not to do that.
No college baseball team in the country has a better record than Louisville’s, and no team has a better shot to win a national championship than the Cardinals do. Those are a pair of distinctions that come with zero guarantees as far as college baseball’s postseason is concerned, but they should come with the guarantee of having the full attention and support of their fan base. I think they will, and I think the next month of Cardinal baseball might be the most special we’ve ever seen. VT