College Baseball Daily continues our series of interviews with coaches from across the country today with Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell. He is entering his fifth season in charge of the Cardinals program. He has led them to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons accumulating a 185-77 record while bringing them to the College World Series in 2007. Last season, the team went 50-14 while winning the Big East Regular Season title with a 21-6 conference record.
CBD: Louisville is coming off another Big East Regular Season title and hosted a regional in 2010. Is the expectation of the Cardinals program to win the CWS title year in and year out?
DM: The expectation at Louisville is to be in the post-season every year and that’s what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last four years. We’ve made four straight NCAA appearances, we’ve hosted two Regionals and one Super Regional and we’ve been to Omaha. We’re knocking on the door of the College World Series every year. We’re not afraid to talk about Omaha and the College World Series and winning a national championship is definitely the ultimate goal of this program.”
2. Have any of the incoming freshmen impressed you during Fall Workouts? Do you expect any of them to break into the starting lineup/rotation this spring?
DM: This is a special freshmen class competing for several spots on the field. Adam Engel is a Boomer Whiting (All-American CF in 2007 with 73 SB) type athlete with the ability to play many positions on the field. Ty Young and Alex Chittenden are true middle infielders. Ty is ahead offensively, while Alex is ahead defensively. Ryan Seiz is a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate. Two-way players such as Cole Sturgeon (L/L) and Cody Ege (L/L) will both see time on the mound and in the field. Chad Green is a Thomas Royse (2010 All-American, 2010 BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year) type strike thrower, while Dace Kime flashes a big time curveball.
3. Louisville loses three of their top five hitters from last year squad with Ryan Wright and Stewart Ijames being the top two returning hitters. Who do you expect to fill into the huge holes left in the lineup with the loss of Phil Wunderlich, Adam Duvall, and Andrew Clark?
DM: Sophomores Zak Wasserman, Cade Stallings and Kyle Grieshaber are middle of the line up type hitters who gained good experience as freshmen.
4. The Cardinals return only one starting pitcher from last season in sophomore Justin Amlung with Thomas Royse and Dean Kiekhefer leaving the program. How do you see the starting lineup coming together?
DM: Sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Koch beat Vanderbilt in Game 2 of the NCAA Regional last year and Justin Amlung pitched in Game 3. Mike Nastold and Keith Landers are coming off injuries having missed last year, while Derek Self and Gabriel Shaw have had success both as starters and working out of the bullpen.
5. Neil Holland leaves the program after recording 17 saves last season. How you going to fill this role at the backend of your bullpen during the season?
DM: Tony Zych has had two productive years as a starter and reliever. Last summer in the Cape, he was very consistent anddominant as a closer pitching in the Cape Cod All-Star game and flashing 97. He has matured into a closer and can fall in line with Trystan Magnuson, (First Round Draft Pick in 2007), BJ Rosenberg (Team USA at IBAF World Cup in 2009) and Neil Holland (All-American in 2010) as another special closer for Louisville.
CBD: Last season, three Big East squads qualified for the NCAA Tourney with UConn and Louisville hosting regionals. This season we see four teams ranked in the preseason poll released by Collegiate Baseball News with St. John’s, Pitt, and Uconn joining your Cardinals in the poll. Who do you expect to be the biggest challenger to defending the conference this season?
DM: We have a great deal of respect for the BIG EAST from top to bottom. The pitching is very good and any team can beat any other team weekly. I wouldn’t look past anyone in this league to compete for a BIG EAST Championship. Connecticut and St. Johns have a lot of star power, but USF, Pittsburgh and Rutgers seem to be very close. I’m probably leaving a couple teams out as well.
CBD: Louisville is taking part in the Big Ten/Big East challenge for the second straight season. The Cardinals have a fantastic schedule in the tourney playing Michigan, Ohio State, and Minnesota. How important is this early season tournament to your RPI and other non-conference matchups?
DM: This is great for both leagues to get on neutral sites and compete. There are many great players in the BIG EAST and in the Big Ten and there is always a challenge of getting out of the gate quickly. Winning is the No. 1 ingredient to having a good RPI. If you can combine that with a good schedule, you set yourself up to have a high RPI. It’s a big weekend for both leagues.
8. This season we will see a new bat standard go into effect. Has your squad had a chance to try out these new bats and if so, what are your thoughts on them?
DM: We did have a chance to swing them in the fall and it should change the game a little. But at the end of the day, baseball is baseball. You have to throw strikes, you have to make plays, and you have to get timely hits to score runs. Maybe there are a few less homeruns, but only time will tell.
College Baseball Daily would like to thank Dan McDonnell for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. Special thanks to Louisville Assistant Sports Information Director Garrett Wall by setting up the interview and sending us the photos from the Louisville Media Relations department. If any other SID’s or coaches would like to be featured in a future interview feel free to send me an email.