The University of Louisville baseball program has been in this position before. For the fourth time in the last seven seasons, the Cardinals will host NCAA post season baseball at Jim Patterson Stadium. Louisville, Bowling Green, Miami and Oklahoma State will all compete for the opportunity to advance to a Super Regional, with their sights set on reaching the College World Series in Omaha.
Louisville, the regular season Big East Conference Champions and the top seed in the region, returns to action following a disappointing performance in the conference tournament last week. After winning 16 consecutive games, Dan McDonnell's squad dropped both games in the Big East Tournament.
"Sometimes it's good to get punched in the mouth a little bit," McDonnell said following team practice on Thursday. "You just have to take a step back and regroup."
Returning home sooner than expected, McDonnell utilized the added time off to get his team prepared and focused on the upcoming postseason. After returning home on Friday night, the team had little time to contemplate on what went wrong, as they started preparations for the NCAA play.
"We pushed them, we challenged them, we competed with a scrimmage," said McDonnell. "They were sore and tired yesterday. We went at it to reassure them and to get them ready, physically and mentally, so they could feel good about themselves."
Bowling Green, which earned a spot in the postseason tournament with a surprising title-winning performance in the MAC conference tournament, will be Louisville's opening game opponent on Friday evening at 6:00p.m. The Falcons (24-29) are making their first appearance in the NCAA Baseball Championship Tournament since 1999 and are the only team in the field with a losing record.
"That's the great thing about the NCAA, you don't know how good Wichita State is in basketball until you put them on the same stage as everybody else," McDonnell said, referencing the Cinderella run the Shockers enjoyed in the 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament. "This is your opportunity to prove to the rest of the country, to the world for that matter, how good you really are."
Louisville is 6-0 all-time against Bowling Green. The two teams met in 2009 and 2010, with the Cardinals sweeping both three-games series against the Falcons.
"It doesn't matter what league you are from and it doesn't matter what your ranking is," he continued. "Yes, it's a little big of an advantage to be at home, but the game is won between the lines. You have to go out there and play good baseball."
Junior right-hander Chad Green (9-3) will take the mound for the Cardinals on Friday, wtih righty Cody Apthorpe (5-4) will getting the nod for the Falcons.
"We have a game plan for every game, but I think that if we just go out and execute our pitches we'll be fine," said Green.
Two tradition-rich programs will face off in the first game on Friday. Four-time College World Series Champion Miami, which is participating in the NCAA postseason for a record 40th consecutive time, will face Oklahoma State, which is enjoying it's 38th appearance, at 2:00p.m.
"There's a lot of star power," McDonnell said of the Louisville Regional. "I think everybody in the country is familiar with Miami, in the two-seed, and Oklahoma State, in the three-seed.
In Bowling Green, you are facing a team that has just won their conference championship, who has just dog-piled and comes down here with nothing to lose."
"I think it's got a little bit of everything," he added. "There's a lot of balance and it makes for some great baseball. If you are a Louisville fan or not, if you are within 100 miles of this place, this is a fun weekend to watch college baseball."
The winners of Friday night's games will meet each other on Saturday afternoon at 5:00p.m. for the chance to advance to Sunday's regional final at 4:00p.m.
Jeff Thompson (10-1), the 2013 Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year, is scheduled to start on Saturday. Dace Kime (5-1) will get the start on Sunday.
The Hurricanes arrived in Louisville without their head coach. Jim Morris remains hospitalized at Duke University Hospital were he is being treated for pneumonia. Morris, who has coached at Miami for 20 seasons, fell ill prior to the teams final game in the ACC Tournament last week. Assistant coach Gino DiMare has taken coaching responsibilities until Morris returns. It's unclear if Morris will be able to join his team in Louisville.
Louisville defeated both Miami and Oklahoma State during its 2007 College World Series run. The Cardinals hold a 2-1 series edge against the Hurricanes. Louisville has a 3-2 series record against Oklahoma State.
Louisville enters the postseason with one of the nation's toughest pitching staffs. The Cardinals rank fifth in the NCAA in ERA at 2.52 and first in strikeouts per nine innings with a 9.7 average.
Every game of the Louisville Regional will be broadcast on the ESPN family. ESPN3.com will carry Friday's action, with ESPNU carrying the remainder on television with one exception. Saturday's second game will be broadcast on ESPN2.