University of Louisville had coach Dan McDonnell learned a lot about his team during play in the three-day Opening Weekend Challenge in Clearwater, Fla. The Cardinals will return home from the Sunshine State with victories over Alabama State and South Florida, but an event closing 8-6 loss to No.19 Cal State Fullerton.
“We like our club,” McDonnell said on Sunday. “It's like I keep saying, don't get to high or to low. This is early in the season and what you have to do is improve. What matters is that you improve throughout the season.”
Certainly a work in progress, as all teams are at this point in the season, but this Cardinals squad has a lot of upside. Kyle Funkhouser lived up to the preseason accolades in his debut striking out 12 in the season-opening win, while Anthony Kidston and Drew Harrington had very impressive outings in Saturday's win. Offensively, the Cardinals pounded out 34 hits, including two home runs and scored 18 runs in the event, with 8 different players enjoying multiple hit outings.
In their final game of opening weekend, Louisville would need that offense to work itself back into the contest against Cal State Fullerton. The No.7 Cardinals found themselves in an early hole after the Titans plated four runs in the top of first inning off of starter Josh Rogers.
Cal State Fullerton added another run in the fourth inning and then an inning later expanded their lead even greater without registering a hit. Relief pitchers Kade McClure and Jonah Philley combined to walk four consecutive batters, with a hit by pitch sandwiched in-between, plating a pair of runs as part of a three-run fifth for the Titans.
“They'll grow and learn from that. Kade McClure is a super-talented pitcher and he's got to help us and Jonah Philley, I've probably brought him in with bases loaded more than anyone in the history of this program and more times than not he's going to get us an out.”
Sparked by solo home run from Corey Ray, the Cardinals rally began in the bottom of the sixth. Will Smith, Danny Rosenbaum and Devin Hairston hit three consecutive two-out doubles, resulting in a pair of runs to trim the Titan lead to 8-4. Louisville added two more runs in the eighth off RBIs from Corey Ray, who later scored on a Cal State Fullerton throwing error.
Louisville's rally ended there, but the effort and focus of his team left McDonnell impressed.
“If there is something that we learn from this, I told our guys, is don't ever give up,” McDonnell told Cardinal Authority. “We were one base running mistake, one defensive play, or probably one more at bat away from having a chance to win that game. As they learn, that's how close you are to losing to and that's what makes this game great, so hopefully we'll take something from and get ready for the homestand.”
Weather permitting, the Cardinals are slated to host Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday at Jim Patterson Stadium.