Louisville baseball began the 2017 season on Friday with the team's first scrimmage followed by the program's annual Leadoff Dinner.
Projected as a top 10 draft pick by multiple publications, junior All-American Brendan McKay highlighted the first scrimmage with four strikeouts in two innings of work and connecting for a two-run home run in his first plate appearance of the preseason. Senior Logan Taylor added a pair of hits and scored twice to lead the Red squad to a 7-5 win.
The start of work begins another season with high expectations for head coach Dan McDonnell's team. The Cardinals are a near consensus top 10 preseason pick, including placing No. 8 in the recently released USA Today Coaches Poll.
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While the expectations are high, McDonnell and his staff focus on the small things and allowing the team to grow together during the early stages of practice.
"It's early," McDonnell said. "You just have to give them time."
"You're reminded often as a coach that you have to give them time to grow. Teach them the simple things simple things - running bases, body language, how to run off and the field. As we always say in this program, put your head down and stay focused. It's early. We are optimistic of this group, but I don't want to get ahead of ourselves either."
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With seven ACC teams among the preseason top 25, the league is poised to once again be a very difficult outing each week. Earlier in the week, league coaches projected the Cardinals to finish second in the Atlantic Division, trailing just Florida State.
The Cardinals are coming off back-to-back seasons that ended in the Super Regional round, including dropping a series to UC Santa Barbara by way of a walk-off grand slam last spring. The stinging defeat, while certainly fresh in the minds of the returning players, it's falling short of winning a national championship that remains the motivation.
"Where we are at as a program right now, the reality is if you don't win a national championship that there is always more that you want to accomplish," McDonnell said. "Even the years you get to Omaha, it's just not fun when you lose the last game and you're so close."
Louisville has three trips to the College World Series during the 10-year tenure of Dan McDonnell and the chase for a fourth trip is now underway. Friday night's Leadoff Dinner, attended by approximately 700 Cardinal fans, is a moment that the head coach refers to as the "realization moment" for the players, especially for the newcomers.
"Tonight it'll really hit you that the season is here," McDonnell explained. "The season is here."
The Cardinals will open the season in Clearwater, Fla., Feb. 17-19 in a round-robin event that also includes Ball State and Maryland. U of L's home-opener at Jim Patterson Stadium is Feb. 22 against Eastern Kentucky.
NOTE: U of L's Director of Athletics Tom Jurich announced during Leadoff Dinner that a gift from the Trager family will allow Jim Patterson Stadium to enjoy another expansion. Jurich didn't provide specifics, instead stating that additional information will come at a future date.
Watch McDonnell's full comments below.
Louisville alums Cody Ege, Chad Green, Dean Kiekhefer and Matt Koch will welcomed as the featured guests at the Leadoff Dinner. Prior to the four Major League Baseball pitchers spending time visiting with fans during the event, the quartet chatted with the media about their time at U of L, the minor leagues and the experience of being called up to the big leagues last season.