Jeff Gardner played high school baseball at Whitefield Academy, a small private school in the Highview area of the city of Louisville.
Gardner said there were only 55 kids in his senior class and the amount of Division I athletes the school has produced can be counted on one hand.
But Gardner sure made the best of it.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Gardner only had one scholarship offer but took University of Louisville baseball coach up on his offer and as a junior is not only one of the team captains but has become one of the team’s best hitters.
”He’s an RBI machine and he’s an on-base percentage guy,” McDonnell said. “He’s really been swinging the bat for us lately.”
Gardner is third on the team at .343 in 44 games, including 29 starts at the designated hitter. He had nine doubles, one triple and five home runs, while driving in 26 RBIs and having a .590 slugging percentage and .430 on-base percentage.
On the season, Gardner has 11 multi-hit games.
”You want to get to a point in the season when the swing feels good and you are seeing the ball, helps you feel so much more comfortable in the box,” Gardner said. “I have said it before, if you feel comfortable in the box you can be a dangerous hitter.”
McDonnell always hoped Gardner could be that dangerous hitter.
U of L was his only offer after a career at Whitefield that saw him named honorable mention All-State as a senior. He was a two-year All-Region performer and began his varsity prep career as a seventh grader.
”Whenever you come from a school that is small, you are really not going to get as much exposure as you want,” Gardner said. “But for me, (coming from a small school) is a big thing that I include in in my testimony. The Lord for me just opened up a lot so many doors that got me where I am today.”
Gardner hit .333 as a freshman in 35 games and then started 47 of 58 games as a sophomore, hitting .299 with 34 RBIs.
But his junior season didn’t start off too strong. He had just nine hits in his first 18 games, including a stretch of 10 games without a hit.
After going 2-for-4 in a home game against Kentucky on April 2, Gardner then went 3-for-6 in a three-game series against Cincinnati. He said a two-out hit in the opener against Cincinnati ignited his strong hitting.
Gardner then went 4-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs in an April 16 game at Kentucky and said he’s “been hitting it pretty well since then.”
“Since the Cincinnati series he has been huge right in the middle of our lineup,” McDonnell said. “He has a chance to hit the ball our of the lineup. I keep telling people, this is college baseball. This is not ‘Big Papi’ getting paid $12 million a year. No one wants to be a DH. You come to college wanting to play a position.
So, you have to be tough to handle that role and he’s a tough kid.”
Gardner said he’s trying to be a “team player,” and doesn’t mind the role and is also hoping to be a role model for some younger kids who might be coming to college from smaller high schools.
”What I try and do is be that guy to be there for the kids who say, ‘He did it, why cant I do it?’” Gardner said. “I like being the guy who can break the mold of a guy doing something from little school.”
U of L will play Connecticut in a three-game series this weekend. The teams play at 1 and 4 p.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday.