U of L baseball: World Series notebook

Corey Ray

A few notebook items as the University of Louisville baseball team prepares for a third appearance in the College World Series in eight years. The Cardinals play Vanderbilt on Saturday night at 8 o'clock in Omaha, Neb.

YOUNG GUYS COME OF AGE

When asked a question about the young guys playing well on the University of Louisville baseball team, left-fielder Jeff Gardner smiled and said "they're not freshmen anymore."

The Cardinal have used five freshmen position players throughout the year and after 65 games coach Dan McDonnell said they've "grown up."

"We knew we had some talented kids," McDonnell said. "We've had some guys step up when we needed them and we like the talent we have (in the freshman class at U of L)."

In the postseason it's been Nick Solak and Corey Ray with the biggest lifts of all by the freshmen position players.

Solak, who has been used as the designated hitter, is 6-for-15 with four runs scored and eight RBIs in five NCAA Tournament games. The native of Chicago had a two-run home run in the clinching game against Kennesaw State.

Ray, the right fielder who is also from Chicago, is 8-for-17 with two runs scored and an RBI during the NCAA Tournament.

"Those guys have really stepped up," Gardner said. "But like coach (McDonnell) always says in this program, 'When the bus stops at your corner, you better be ready to jump on'."

ANOTHER BURDI IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Lost in the excitement of the clinching win on Saturday against Kennesaw State was a solid performance by a Burdi - Zach Burdi.

The freshman and younger brother of All-American Nick Burdi had only made 12 appearances - 10 innings of work - the entire season. He'd not played since May 25 and only had three appearances since May 1.

But pitching coach Roger Williams said he had been excited by recent progression and threw him into the NCAA game for one batter - Max Pentecost. In the seventh inning with one runner on, Burdi faced the No. 2 batter in the country got him to fly out to right center.

"As coaches, we noticed," McDonnell said. "And it put a smile on our faces."

The first pitch to Pentecost was a 97 MPH fastball and the pitch he popped up was 96.

"Going against Max Pentecost was pretty big," the younger Burdi said. "He's one of the best hitters I've seen in college. I just tried to soak it all in and was ready."

Zach Burdi is 1-0 this season in 13 appearances and has a 4.35 ERA. He said it was the first time in a game he had topped out at 97 on the radar gun.

"I know that I am right where I need to be," Burdi said. "Coach has put me right where I need to be and I know my time will come."

McDonnell said the younger Burdi could potentiall replace Nick Burdi, the all-time leader in saves with 34 career saves next season as the closer for the Cardinals.

"Nick was thrown into the fire and we've been able to protect Zach a little," McDonnell said. "I know he wants to be out there more but he understands. I think he might be farther along than Nick was at this age."

LUCAS COMING UP BIG

Another local product has also come up big during the postseason - second baseman Zach Lucas, who is from Butler High School.

Lucas was 5-for-10 with four doubles and two RBIs in the NCAA Regional and then went 3-for-6 with two runs scored against the Owls.

Lucas has seen his average go from .248 up to .268 now heading into the College World Series. McDonnell said Lucas will be "a key player" in Omaha because of his experience.

He started last season in the World Series when Nick Ratajczak was injured.

CARDS THE VISITING TEAM

U of L lost the coin flip and will be the visiting team on Saturday night in the opener against Vanderbilt.

The Cardinals will practice in TD Ameritrade Parker on Friday from 1-1:50 p.m. eastern time. The game on Saturday is at 8 p.m.

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