The College World Series begins tonight, and while UNC’s Colin Moran may be the biggest local name involved after being drafted sixth overall by the Miami Marlins last week, Josh Thomson had a story in today’s paper about a Port Chester grad that has guided Louisville to new heights:
Louisville baseball had never been to Omaha before Dan McDonnell arrived in 2006. Less than a year later, the rookie head coach led the Cardinals to the College World Series – a trip, in hindsight, that meant as much about getting there as anything.
“In 2007, it was like the Roger Bannister four-minute-mile team,” McDonnell said. “We just kind of broke that mental barrier that said, ‘You know what, you guys can go to Omaha.’”
Louisville and McDonnell needed six years, but they returned to Omaha, Neb., and will open the College World Series on ESPN at 8 Saturday night at TD Ameritrade Park against Indiana.
Before McDonnell arrived, the Cardinals had only reached the NCAA tournament once. They’ve now earned a berth in six of McDonnell’s seven seasons and set the program record for wins twice, most recently this season.
The Port Chester High School graduate has guided a pitching-rich team to a 51-12 record. No longer is a run to Omaha a surprise; it’s become an expectation.
“This is, from start to finish, we could argue, our best season,” McDonnell said. “Every kid we recruit, they know we hope to get to Omaha and go win a national championship.”
Louisville is now one of eight teams with that opportunity. In 2007, the Cardinals split their first two games before North Carolina bounced them from the double-elimination tournament. The top-seeded Tar Heels returned again this year, along with all-American third baseman Colin Moran.
McDonnell once played against one of Moran’s uncles, Mark Surhoff, and recruited Moran, an Iona Prep graduate, to play at Louisville. A reunion would mean both teams reached the best-of-three final on June 24-26. (North Carolina opens at 3 Sunday against N.C. State and is on the opposite side of the bracket.)
“I can’t say I knew he was going to be this good,” McDonnell said of Moran, who is one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award. “I don’t think North Carolina knew he was going to be this good.”
Louisville might say the same about McDonnell. He played four seasons at the Citadel, one of which (1990) ended in Omaha. He then served as an assistant at his alma mater and Ole Miss for 14 seasons combined, but the Cardinals have thrived under his leadership, posting a 309-140 record.
McDonnell now hopes to take the biggest step forward. The city and the school has produced a national champ in men’s basketball; a national finalist in women’s basketball; and a Sugar Bowl winner in football.
“It’s expected on our campus and it’s healthy being in that type of environment,” McDonnell said. “If they can do it, why can’t we?”
Photo from University of Louisville sports information