UofL baseball is once again hosting an NCAA baseball regional. The action gets underway at Jim Patterson Stadium on Friday. The Cards, the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament, play Western Michigan at 6 p.m. Ohio State and Wright State meet in the 2 p.m. opener of the double elimination regional. The Cards are 47-12 overall and an amazing 33-1 at Jim Patterson Stadium. They have won 19 in a row at home. They also feature some Major League prospects who figure to hear their names called early in the draft on June 9. Cards juniors Corey Ray and Zack Burdi are projected to be early picks. Dan McDonnell has led UofL to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, three times in his 10 seasons. He was hired by UofL Vice President and Director of Athletics Tom Jurich in June of 2006.
Is NCAA selection day still exciting for you, or is the goal in front of you your sole focus?
Ray: Itâ€™s the goal. I donâ€™t think it matters who we play. I think it matters how we play, and if we play Louisville baseball, weâ€™ll be tough to beat. Iâ€™ve said it all year, and I think itâ€™s true. We stand behind it. If we play Louisville baseball, itâ€™s tough to beat us and weâ€™re playing good teams, so hopefully we get out there this week and get better and get back to playing Louisville baseball.
Is the upcoming Major League Baseball draft in the back of your mind?
Ray: Definitely. Around this time, if youâ€™re not focused on the task at hand, you wonâ€™t get there, so Iâ€™m giving this team my all. Whether itâ€™s my last go or not, Iâ€™m giving it everything I have to help us reach our goal.
Are there guys that you lean on for advice on how to deal with that kind of stuff?
Ray: Yeah, Curtis Granderson definitely. Iâ€™ll probably reach out to Swanson (Dansby Swanson, Vanderbilt, No. 1 pick in 2015 draft) maybe one day this week to figure out how he dealt with it because he dealt with it pretty good. His team got to a national championship series. I lean on my teammates and coaches. I try to stay within the program and lean on my guys, my brothers.
Have you known Curtis Granderson for a while?
Ray: Since my freshman year. Iâ€™m going back home and working out with him there. He works out with a lot of the guys from the Chicago area during the offseason, and heâ€™s made himself available for me anytime I need him.
How cool is it to see the ESPN story projecting you as the potential top pick?
Ray: It is pretty cool. I donâ€™t think that you ever think that youâ€™re that good. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m that good, not yet at least, but Iâ€™ll get there. Itâ€™s exciting, and you know I thank the coaches and everyone who has been behind me to help me.
What is it about this place that makes it so hard for opponents?
Ray: Weâ€™re familiar with it. Weâ€™re familiar with the turf. Weâ€™re familiar with the field and our fans. They keep us in the game. They give us life when weâ€™re down, and I think this team is confident. Whether we get down, by how many, it doesnâ€™t matter â€“ I think that we believe that we will win every game, and itâ€™s just the mindset that we have.
As great as it is in the regular season, isnâ€™t that advantage magnified in the postseason?
Ray: Itâ€™s very different. We pack this place out pretty good, and it gets loud. Itâ€™s fun and the fans are on top of you, and they know when to cheer Â and they know when to boo. The thing that I like about our fans the most is that if we donâ€™t get a call, they let the umpire hear about it, but itâ€™s not like some places you go where itâ€™s constant crying and constant whining. I like that.
What are the biggest factors to winning in the postseason?
McDonnell: It comes down to playing well. It sounds simple, but I always say it comes down to three things. Youâ€™ve got to throw strikes â€“ youâ€™re pitchers have to pound the ball into the zone. If they do that on a consistent basis, youâ€™ve got to be ready to make plays and just routine plays. Itâ€™s nice to make a great play or two, but if your pitcher is going to throw the ball into the zone, that means the ball is going to get put in play and youâ€™ve got to make routine plays. Then youâ€™ve got to get a timely hit. Thereâ€™s that two-out hit that someone is going to have to get at some point. The pitchers are really good, the teams are really focused and everybody is playing at such a high, passionate, joyful level that itâ€™s just not given to you. Itâ€™s not easy. Itâ€™s not supposed to be easy, so we emphasize those three things on a consistent basis. And itâ€™s worked pretty well for us.
As much success as Dan McDonnell has had here, is this the best team he has had here?
Jurich: Just from my eye, and certainly I donâ€™t have as good an eye as Dan does or his coaching staff, but this to me looks like the best built team weâ€™ve ever had and I thought last year was to. But you all know itâ€™s baseball. Baseball resembles golf in a lot of ways. That ball sometimes goes, well mine goes out of bounds a lot, but sometimes it just doesnâ€™t take the right turn for you so weâ€™ve just got to try and do our due diligence.
What is different about Coach McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams in the postseason?
Burdi: I think thatâ€™s the key is that they arenâ€™t different. They donâ€™t pressure us. They donâ€™t really make it out to be something that it isnâ€™t. Itâ€™s just baseball. Youâ€™re playing a game. If you make it out to be something it isnâ€™t, then thatâ€™s when you start pressing, and guys get mad at each other and next thing you know, youâ€™re done for the year. VT