U of L baseball continues to amaze, expand

On a night when the University of Louisville baseball team shattered an attendance record, the Cardinals also secured a third trip to the College World Series in eight years. The Cardinals beat Kennesaw State 7-4 and continue to amaze as one of the school's top programs.

Former University of Louisville baseball player Jim Patterson sat alongside Tom Jurich in the U of L athletic directors suite on Saturday night in the stadium named for Patterson.

The two cheered and exchanged high fives as the U of L baseball team made it back to a third College World Series with a 7-4 victory over Kennesaw State to sweep the best-of-three series in two games at Jim Patterson Stadium.

Jurich also pointed out to Patterson that two seasons after a renovation of the stadium that bears his name, another one is needed.

"It's the best fund raiser ploy," Jurich joked of the two weekend games.

As the program continues to reach new heights, the culture has changed and the fan base is rapidly growing. U of L averaged 1,856 fans this season, ranking No. 27 in all of college baseball and trailing only four ACC schools.

The Cardinals advanced into the school's third College World Series in front of a record crowd. It was 5,351 on Friday night for a 5-3 win over Kennesaw State and 6,007 on Saturday.

All of the 3,000 chair back seats were filled, the berm was jammed and fans were 10 deep all around the ball park.

"The great thing is Mr. Patterson was sitting up with me and I asked him, 'What are we going to do?' Jurich said. "I told him we don't have any more seats, so we have to keep going.

"He told me to come and see him."

There's no question a third expansion of the ball park built in 2005 is coming. But there's also no question this U of L program is here to stay as an elite power.

The Cardinals will be the only team making a return appearance into the College World Series. U of L had two NCAA games played prior to Dan McDonnell being named head coach and now in eight years the Cards have 24 NCAA Tournament wins.

And that includes 5-0 in the first two weekends of the tournament each of the past two seasons.

"We didn't want to be one of those programs that gets to Omaha every five or 10 years," McDonnell said. "There's nothing wrong with that. There's no disrespect in that. Let's be Florida. Let's be South Carolina. Those are teams that went three years in a row. I believed we could do it when we watched those schools do it."

It's happened this year with a team many didn't expect to make a run.

"A lot of people thought we were going to be a three seed (in the NCAA) a few weeks ago," junior reliever Nick Burdi said.

Nope, the Cardinals are going to Omaha. U of L has won 23 of its past 27 games and it's another 50-win season coming off a year when U of L lost seven players to the MLB Draft, including all three of the weekend starters.

"We knew this was going to be a rebuilding year," Jurich said. "And to see them play through adversity and do this. Well, that's why (McDonnell) is the best there is in college baseball. He's the absolute best."

McDonnell was emotional in his press conference but his message to his team after the game was simple: "Stay focused."

The Cardinals went 1-2 in 2007 in Omaha and were two and done last season. But this team is headed West on a mission.

Texas, a No. 2 seed, and No. 3 seed UC Irvine are the two other teams already in the field. Only four other No. 1 seeds are even left in the tournament, which culminates with the World Series that begins on Saturday.

"We're going to Omaha to win a national championship," senior Jeff Gardner said.

And who would bet against them. It's a program that has come a long way and continues to keep getting better - and expanding.

"You do it because the culture carries over to the next year," McDonnell said. "Eventually those (key) players run out and you just hope that you can always funnel in enough to maintain what we've had here the past couple of years. So it doesn't surprised me but it's special.

"We've got the momentum, now we just have to keep it going."