As the University of Louisville baseball team prepares to open play in its fourth College World Series on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals program has turned the corner in the eyes of the college baseball world.
Louisville is not just an up-and-coming player in the sport, but a major contender for a national title.
Prior to the season, three national college baseball writers predicted the Cardinals were the next program without one to claim a national title and the Cardinals have become a mainstay in the top 25 under coach Dan McDonnell.
But this year helped push the Cardinals even further into the 'elite program' status in the sport. U of L was ranked in the top 10 in four of the six major baseball polls the entire season and made it to No. 1 in four polls for two weeks.
The Cardinals have a school-record 52 and are favored in Las Vegas to win the World Series title. U of L will play Texas A&M on Sunday at 3 o'clock to try and win its CWS opener for the first time ever.
"We just try and stick to the plan," McDonnell said. "We don't like to get caught up in anything but what we are doing as a program. I've always said, we never try to get too high and we never get too low. We just worry about ourselves and keep going."
McDonnell has been at Louisville for 11 years and has never changed that speech. He has built the program into a national contender along with pitching coach Roger Williams, who has been with him the entire time. Chris Lemonis, now the Indiana coach, was his recruiting coordinator and this is the third year for Eric Snider in that role.
"We're not for everybody," McDonnell said when asked about his programs recruiting success. "But for the kids who want to be here and fit in here with us, it's an awfully neat place."
Snider and McDonnell said the coaches never promise a kid a trip to Omaha, but both coaches noted the success the Cardinals have had going to Omaha four times in 11 years and three of the past five seasons has helped the program turn the corner.
"It sure doesn't hurt," McDonnell said.
Added Snider: "We have a three-step process we try and sell. One you are going to get your degree, two is player development and three is team success and winning championships."
With Snider adding the exposure the program has gotten in Omaha "opens a lot more doors."
But if the recruiting rankings are any indications prior to this trip to Omaha, the Louisville program is now only set for the future but has some more bright times ahead.
Louisville has at least 48 prospects signed or committed in the classes of 2017, '18, '19, '20 and '21. According to Perfect Game, 12 of the commitments are ranked in the top 100 and 25 in the top 300 prospects nationally.
The '18 and '19 classes are both ranked in the top 10 among schools.
Cardinal Authority talked with some of the future U of L players about the College World Series and their views of this run the Cardinals are on. A few players were able to attend last week's Super Regional win over Kentucky.
"I went to the game (one of the Supers) and my parents went (to game two) as I watched while working out," Batesville, Ind., catcher Zach Britton, a '17 signee said. "I think it's great that they're going back to Omaha for the third time in the past five years. Not only is it great for the players and coaches but for the fans and the city of Louisville.
"I'm so excited for the future as a Card and look forward to getting back to the College World Series."
Nokomis, Ill., pitcher Reid Detmers, who was drafted in the 32nd round by the Braves, was also in attendance for the Supers.
"It was awesome; I was at the both games," Detmers said. "It's pretty exciting seeing the team that you are going to play for in about three weeks go to the College World Series. The atmosphere at Jim Patterson is ridiculous. There's never a dull moment."
Another elite prospect from '17 - New Riegel, Ohio, pitcher Michael Kirian - was also in attendance at Patterson.
"Watching them play and get that win was a great experience to watch with my family," Kirian said. "These are the things that people come to Louisville for and seeing them be successful makes me even more excited get to school."
Henry Davis, a catcher from Bedford, N.Y., in the '18 class flew in for the final game of the Supers.
"It was so awesome," Davis said. "It's great for the program and it shows that the hard work the coaches and players put in is paying off."
Here are some comments from some others:
Shaker Heights, Ohio, pitcher Connor Adams ('17): "It's amazing to see what Coach McDonnell and Coach Williams have accomplished in the past 10 years at Louisville. To know a good amount of players on the team and realizing that it's only a year away is awesome. For us to be in the super regional for five straight years is something special and it's great to be a part of the future and trying to add on to the programs success. Watching this years team make it to Omaha and seeing the fan support at the regional and super regional just reminds me of how much of a honor it is to be playing for Louisville and how lucky I am. I was at the games and the atmosphere was amazing."
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, outfielder Trey Leonard ('17): "I was going crazy knowing that my dream and future team worked like crazy to do what every teams dream is. After watching them the last two years lose in heart breakers it's great to see them finally get that win and advance. The third times a charm as they say. It also motivates me to work even harder to make it to that same place that they did and do all the things that this team has accomplished. I'm extremely excited for the boys down there and can't wait to do it again with them in these upcoming years."
McHenry, Ill., pitcher Bobby Miller ('17): "I think it's awesome and very exciting. They are a very hard working team and they definitely deserve this for all of their hard work. Yes I watched the game and it was a very fun game to watch
Indianapolis Cathedral second baseman Jared Poland ('18): "Yes I have been watching all Louisville's post season games and Its exciting that they're going back to Omaha. That is why me and other commits in my grade decided to go to Louisville because they compete each year and have a high possibility to make it to Omaha each year. They always compete in big games and continue to win in important times. They are very good this year and have a great chance of winning the World Series."
Christian County catcher Wyatt Stevenson ('19): "I think it is awesome that they are going to the CWS. They played as a team and accomplished a great win. Being committed to the University of Louisville is an awesome feeling and wouldn't trade it for the world."
Batavia, Ill., pitcher Glenn Albanese ('17): "I watched both games the last two days. All of the commits were tuned in and we were all talking about it. It's awesome too see a team during a "rebuilding year" to go to the CWS. Coach McDonnell and the rest of the staff truly are the best in the nation. There's no doubt in my mind that we'll all be there again soon enough. I'm excited to see how this team does because they have the players to go all the way. It's exciting when you know that the coaches are the best in the nation. I know that when we're there we have all the resources and coaching to make a run. All the commits are fired up about the future."
Warren East pitcher Ryan Hawks, a top 100 prospect in '19: "It was awesome. Just knowing all those guys and being around them before the season and seeing them go out there and sweep Kentucky was an amazing feeling. The atmosphere from what I saw was crazy and I can't wait to get out there and feel that for my self. I had a game of my own but we were keeping up with it in the dugout."
Murfreesboro, Tenn., shortstop Andrew Benefield, a top 100 prospect in '18: "It was just flat out amazing. Seeing the program Coach McDonnell, Coach Snider, and Coach Williams have turned Louisville into is really awesome. Omaha is the goal every year now, with all the success Louisville has had the past years. Nothing less than Omaha is acceptable for them and it really shows how far they have come. I watched the heart breaking games the past two years so it was really good to see them win and clinch a spot in Omaha. I can't wait to get on campus and join that winning culture that has been established in Louisville."
Camp Hill, Pa., outfielder Bobby Whalen ('19): "Yes, I've watched almost every post season game so far. It's a great feeling knowing they got to the CWS, especially how the last two seasons ended. They really earned it. I couldn't be happier for all the guys on the team and all of the coaches. But that being said, they aren't done yet. It makes me want to get there now even more and follow in these guys footsteps."
Scott County High School third baseman Trace Willhoite ('19): "It's really exciting to see them make it to Omaha and makes me along with other recruits work even harder because we see what can happen when players buy into the program and are led by an amazing coaching staff. I did watch both super Regional games and went to two regional games. The atmosphere in Jim Patterson stadium is unreal. I'm excited to be able to be apart of this."
Oak Creek, Wis., third baseman Alex Binelas ('18): "I really thought it was cool watching some guys I know through social media and old teammates of mine play on the national stage and get to Omaha, knowing that could be me in a few years."
Indianapolis Roncalli outfielder Nicholas Schnell ('18): "I think it is incredible. The ongoing success makes it really exciting to be committed to such a good school. Every kid dreams of playing in Omaha and seeing it from your future school makes it very exciting."
Fishers, Ind., pitcher Carter Lohman, a top 100 prospect in '18: "I loved it and beating Kentucky is the best way to go to Omaha. And it was definitely time to get back to Omaha especially after those heartbreakers the last two years. I was lucky enough to have some down time in between my games this weekend so I got to watch both of the games in my hotel room. It was awesome."
Westchester, Ill., pitcher Michael Prosecky ('19): "I think it's awesome for the school and the future of the program. Most of all I think it serves as motivation to get better as players so in the future the team can get back there. I wasn't able to watch the game as I had games myself, but I really wish I could've seen the environment.:
Plainfield, Ill., shortstop Christian Knapczyk ('20): "I watched it all. I am very excited for the team and for the coaches. I hope to be there one day."
Edwardsville, Ill., third baseman Drake Westcott ('20): "I am very excited for Louisville to make it to the CWS again. My high school team was playing in the Illinois State Finals so I did not get to watch the game live. I can't wait to watch the Cards in Omaha. I am really looking forward to being a Cardinal."
Pitcher Ethan Wood, the No. 5 ranked prospect in the '21 class, who lives in Lebanon, Ky., and will be a freshman in the fall: "I definitely kept up with my team. I'm really excited they are going back to Omaha! Looking forward to going with them when I get there in a few years."