Only days removed from a thrilling sweep of Pittsburgh to claim the Big East Conference regular season crown, the University of Louisville (46-10) enters the league tournament on Wednesday as the top seed. Winners of a nation-leading 16 straight games, U of L will begin play in the Big East Conference tournament as a confident group.
"You have to feel like you can beat anybody on any given day, but as you learn, you can also lose to anybody, just by not playing good baseball," said Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell.
Louisville will face 8th-seeded Connecticut (30-26) in the opening round of the tournament held at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., on Wednesday. The Cardinals swept the series against their opening-round foe earlier this month, outscoring the Huskies 17-1 in three games.
Despite their earlier success against UConn, McDonnell was quick to warn that the winning streak could come to a screaching halt if his team doesn't remain focused in what he believes will be a more difficult conference tournament.
"Baseball is such a crazy game that it doesn't matter how many games you've won because you have to play well the next day. Our goal is to go to Clearwater and play good baseball," he said. "I think this will be the toughest Big East Tournament we've been a part of. I know our kids will be excited for what should be a great week."
Louisville has entered the conference tournament as the No.1 seed four of the last five years, but have struggled to win the tournament.
Senior first baseman Zak Wasserman is experiencing his third trip as the top seed, but he has yet to enjoy winning the league's post season play.
"My freshman year we went in as a number one seed, last year we were the number seed and this year we are going as the number one seed, so we are going to try and turn that around and get in a couple wins down there," said Wasserman. "We are playing great baseball right now, which is the biggest key. We are going to ride our momentum down in Clearwater."
As he has continually stressed during his team's stretch of 16 consecutive wins, McDonnell says the key to success comes down to three aspects of the game.
"You have to do the little things," he explained. "In postseason play it comes down to three things: it's throwing strikes, making the routine plays and getting a timely hit or two. It sounds easy, but teams that can conquer those three things will usually come out on top."
After losing a pair against St. Johns, followed by a loss against rival Vanderbilt in mid-April, the Cardinals returned their attention back to improving in the routine situations, which has paid dividends in the win column and with the team's confidence.
"I think it's just our confidence," said third baseman Ty Young. "We've been coming out and playing our game. We know our roles and what we have to do to win. Against St. Johns we were trying to do to much and we let the pressure get to us, but now we are playing good baseball and let our confidence take over."
Wasserman, this season's team captain, has noticed an improvement in the confidence level of his teammates.
"We have an extremely confident group of kids," Wasserman told Cardinal Authority. "We really believe in our abilities and I believe we work harder than anybody else out there and that all carries over to the field."
Freshman righthander Kyle Funkhouser (4-1) will get the start against the Huskies, allowing regular starters Chad Green (9-2) and Jeff Thompson (10-1) to receive an extra day of rest.
With an RPI rating that ranks among the top 15, U of L has an excellent opportunity to host a Regional, and potentially a Super Regional, should the team play well in Clearwater.
"If we win the Big East tournament I think we have a good chance of hosting," said Green. "Obviously to come back and play in our facility would be huge and would help us to advance to a Super Regional and Omaha, so it's important that we play good baseball this week."
However, while some projections have the Cardinals grabbing one of the 8 national seeds, McDonnell wants the attention to remain squarely on the task at hand.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves [thinking of] hosting Regionals, national seeds and going to Omaha," he said. "We have to win the first game against UConn Wednesday night. Let's do what we've been doing for the last month and that's concentrate on playing great baseball and we'll let all of that other stuff take care of itself."
The double-elimination round games of the BIG EAST Championship will be carried live on ESPN3 and BigEastBaseball.com, while Sunday's final will be televised at noon ET on ESPNU.
2013 BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE
Wednesday, May 22
Game 1 - No. 6 St. John's (23-33) vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh (40-15), 10 a.m.
Game 2 - No. 7 Notre Dame (31-23) vs. No. 2 Seton Hall (36-17), 1 p.m.
Game 3 - No. 8 Connecticut (30-25) vs. No. 1 Louisville (46-10), 5 p.m.
Game 4 - No. 5 Rutgers (26-28) vs. No. 4 USF (35-20), 8 p.m.
Thursday, May 23
Game 5 - Loser of Game 1 vs. Loser of Game 2, 10 a.m.
Game 6 - Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2, 1 p.m.
Game 7 - Loser of Game 3 vs. Loser of Game 4, 5 p.m.
Game 8 - Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4, 8 p.m.
Friday, May 24
Game 9 - Loser of Game 6 vs. Winner of Game 5, 4 p.m.
Game 10 - Loser of Game 8 vs. Winner of Game 7, 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 25
Game 11 - Winner of Game 6 vs. Winner of Game 9, 10 a.m.
Game 12 - Winner of Game 8 vs. Winner of Game 10, 1 p.m.
Game 13 - Loser of Game 11 vs. Winner of Game 11, 5 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 14 - Loser of Game 12 vs. Winner of Game 12, 6:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.
(if necessary; Game 14 would be at 6:30 if Game 13 is not necessary, 8 p.m. otherwise)
Sunday, May 26 - Championship game (ESPNU)
Game 15 - Winner of Group 1 vs. Winner of Group 2, Noon
All times Eastern