As the University of Louisville prepares to make its second consecutive trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., it will be readying for an opener against rival Vanderbilt.
While the series dates back to 1971, the two programs didn't develop a rivalry until more recent years. Due to the friendship between the two head coaches and the proximity of the schools, the Battle for the Barrel was established in 2012. The winner of the annual regular season winner is awarded a barrel, which signifies Kentucky's history as a bourbon-making state and Tennessee's history as a whiskey-making state.
Louisville won this years meeting, taking an 11-7 decision in Nashville. Despite the mid-week win over the Commodores, the Cardinals anticipate another thrilling contest.
"I don't think you can take to much from it," said senior left fielder Jeff Gardner on Monday. "Just the fact that we showed that we can compete with them and win, so I think you can take that from it."
Louisville, which as won three straight in the series, has been a similar situation. The Cardinals dropped a 10-2 game to visiting Vanderbilt last season, only to rebound and sweep the Commodores in the Nashville Super Regional and advance to Omaha.
"We lived it last year," U of L head coach Dan McDonnell explained. "Playing bad against them in the mid-week and then playing much better in the Super Regional."
Having the game on a regular rotating schedule has certainly been a boost, but the frequent post season match-ups between the programs has fueled the growth of the rivalry. In addition to last season's super regional meeting, the two programs squared off 5 times in regional action during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Louisville also met a rival in the 2013 College World Series, losing to Indiana in the team's opener. That experience is one that the senior leaders are hoping to use to their advantage later this week.
"It's definitely cool the way it worked out," said Gardner. "Last year we met a rival, Indiana, for our first game and we saw how that turned out. We really trying not to get caught up with emotions, as far as whether we're playing a rival or we're playing somebody we have no idea about."Senior outfielder/pitcher Cole Sturgeon agreed.
"We've been there before now, so we know a little bit more what to expect," he said. "They are a great team and have been for a long time. We've had some fun games with them over the past few years. It'll be a fun night."