Entering the 2016 season with the program's highest-ever preseason ranking, No. 2 Louisville begins its quest to reach the College World Series today as it welcomes SIU Edwardsville for a three-game series beginning on Friday afternoon.
With Mother Nature providing a sneak of spring - temperatures should be in the 60s at game time - and free admission at the gates, the Cardinals hope to also host a nice crowd for its 3p.m. season-opener. It's also a rare treat for the baseball faithful, as this weekend marks the first time since 2010 that the Cardinals have opened the season at home.
This is the first ever meeting between U of L and SIU Edwardsville, which are members of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Cougars welcome back their entire starting rotation from last spring, which saw the team finish 20-30. They were projected seventh in the OVC preseason poll. Saturday's game is schedule for a 2p.m. start with Sunday's finale slated for 1p.m.
Here's a quick notebook to get you primed as the 2016 season:
Senior righty Kyle Funkhouser will get the start for the Cardinals. The All-American, who made headlines when he chose to return to U of L for a final season after being a first round draft selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers, bolsters a rotation that includes sophomore lefty Brendan McKay, the 2015 Naitonal Two-Way Player of the Year, and emerging junior Drew Harrington, a lefty who made 17 appearances out of the bullpen last season.
Selected by the coaches and their fellow teammates, junior righthanded pitcher Zack Burdi, junior catcher Will Smith and junior infielder Nick Solak will serve as team captains for the 2016 season. Burdi was a Third Team Louisville Slugger All-American and All-ACC First Team selection last season while earning a 6-1 record with nine saves and a 0.92 ERA in 20 relief appearances. Smith started 47 games behind the plate in 2015 hitting .242 with two home runs and 15 RBI. Solak emerged as one of Louisville's top offensive players in 2015 hitting .324 with three home runs, 40 RBI, 15 doubles and 18 stolen bases while starting all 65 games.
Projected Position Starters
**The team will announce the official batting lineup and starting lineup on Friday.
|C||30||Will Smith||Jr||Made 47 starts in 2015.|
|-OR-||42||Colby Fitch||So||Made 18 starts behind the plate in 2015.|
|1B||38||Brendan McKay||So||National Freshman of the Year in 2015.|
|-OR-||8||Danny Rosenbaum||Sr||32 starts in 2015.|
|2B||17||Nick Solak||Jr||Hit .324 with 40 RBI in 2015.|
|SS||29||Devin Hairston||So||Regional Most Outstanding Player|
|3B||26||Blake Tiberi||So||22 starts in 2015|
|OF||2||Corey Ray||Jr||Hit .325 with 56 RBI in 2015.|
|OF||24||Logan Taylor||Jr||Hit .625 with 7 RBI in NCAA Tourney|
|OF||35||Colin Lyman||Jr||Made 7 starts in 2015|
|-OR-||33||Ryan Summers||So||Made 30 starts in 2015.|
Five Cardinals garnered preseason All-American accolades. Kyle Funkhouser, Brendan McKay, Corey Ray, Nick Solak and Zack Burdi all collected preseason honors from one or more of the national college baseball publications.
ACC Preseason Poll
Following an ACC regular season that saw it establish a new record with the most wins in conference history, Louisville begins the 2016 season as both the unanimous choice by league coaches to win the Atlantic Division and overall ACC regular season title. Miami was selected as the Coastal Division favorite, with 2015 defending national champion Virginia chosen second.
|Overall Champion: Louisville (14)|
|Atlantic Division||Coastal Division|
|1.||Louisville||(14) 98||1.||Miami||(13) 97|
|2.||Florida State||74||2.||Virginia||(1) 80|
|3.||NC State||72||3.||North Carolina||71|
|4.||Notre Dame||50||4.||Georgia Tech||58|
|6.||Wake Forest||35||6.||Virginia Tech||30|
- Brendan McKay, the 2015 John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year, enters his sophomore season as the scheduled Saturday starting pitcher. After making 58 starts as a hitter in 2015, McKay will continue to provide punch in the batting order this spring. McDonnell indicated that McKay could see more time as designated hitter in 2016. He hit .308 with four home runs, 34 RBI and 32 runs, while recording a 9-3 record with a 1.77 ERA and 117 strikeouts on the mound.
- Junior Nick Solak enjoyed a career-best 20 game hitting streak last spring and finished with a .324 average, which included hitting for a team-high 15 doubles.
- Corey Ray topped U of L in multiple categories during his sophomore season. His .325 average, 11 home runs, 56 RBI, five triples and 34stolen bases all lead the team in 2015.
- Zack Burdi highlights a bullpen that was one of the toughest to hit in 2015. The group had a 1.82 ERA with a 22-2 record. Opposing batters hit just .175. More telling is that U of L has won 139 consecutive games when entering the ninth inning with a lead.
- The Cardinals ranked among the top three in the ACC in multiple statistical categories in 2015, including finishing first in stolen bases (127) and ERA (2.74).
- Kyle Funkhouser enters 2016 second in program history with 26 wins an second in strikeouts with 281. His 13 wins in 2014 is the school record for single season victories.
- Head coach Dan McDonnell enters his 10th season at Louisville with a career record of 406-177 (.696), with currently ranks 6th nationally among active coaches in winning percentage. The Cardinals rank 6th nationally in wins during his tenure.
Fan interest in Cardinal baseball continues to rise, as seven of the top ten largest crowds at Jim Patterson Stadium came in the 2015 season, including the top two. With high expectations and continued free admission to all but one regular season game, it's likely a similar result will occur this spring.
The average attendance for the team's 37 home games in 2015 was 2,360.
|Top 5 Crowds of 2015|
|1.||6,138||May 8||vs. No.7 Florida State|
|2.||6,010||June 8||Super Regional vs. No.11 Cal St. Fullerton|
|3.||5,143||May 29||NCAA Regional vs. Morehead State|
|4.||5,056||Apr 28||vs. Kentucky|
|5.||5,042||May 12||vs. No.7 Vanderbilt|
|Top 5 Overall Crowds|
|1.||6,138||May 8, 2015||vs. No.7 Florida State|
|2.||6,010||June 8, 2015||Super Regional vs. No.11 Cal St. Fullerton|
|3.||6,007||June 7, 2014||Super Regional vs No.12 Kennesaw State|
|4.||5,351||June 6, 2014||Super Regional vs No. 12 Kennesaw State|
|5.||5,143||May 29, 2015||NCAA Regional vs Morehead State|