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Louisville’s Dan McDonnell Ready to Battle in ACC

Photo Louisville Athletic Dept.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Coming off back-to-back College World Series appearances, University of Louisville baseball head coach Dan McDonnell, stands at the gates of the 2015 NCAA baseball season facing what might be his biggest test yet.In Louisville’s inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, McDonnell and staff face a tremendously difficult schedule that is sure to take the Cards to the limit both physically and mentally. College Baseball Central spoke with McDonnell Wednesday and the gifted skipper provided insight to his team expectations for the coming college baseball season.

“I could put our schedule up against anybody’s in the nation,” McDonnell stated. “It could be the toughest in the country. There is no doubt you’re going to get beat up in the ACC, it’s just a question of picking yourself up and dusting yourself off and getting back in the fight.”

The Cards are slated to face six preseason top 25 ranked teams. The first of which comes on Feb. 15 at the Clearwater Tournament in Clearwater, Fla. at Bright House Field against No. 20 ranked Cal State Fullerton. From there it’s a baptism of fire, as the Cardinals go on a grueling conference as well as non-conference schedule.

The matchups include the likes of No. 9 ranked Miami, last season’s juggernaut Ole Miss, regional adversary Indiana, and a three game series at home against No. 22 Georgia Tech. Follow that up with a road trip to Davenport Field in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the Cards will play a three game series against a No. 2 ranked Virginia squad that fell only to Vanderbilt in the CWS finals last year. Match ups against Kentucky, Clemson, No. 12 Florida State and No. 1 Vanderbilt round out the regular season.

“In the fall it was all about toughness,” McDonnell said. “Now in the spring, more specifically, it’s about mental toughness. We are going to spend a lot of time preparing for this schedule.”

Photo Louisville Athletic Dept.

On the mound Uof L looks to be in good shape bringing back experienced starters junior RHP Anthony Kidston (Defiance, Ohio/Defiance), and junior RHP Kyle Funkhouser (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest). The loss of Nick Burdi at closer to the major leagues has left the door open for younger brother RHP Zack Burdi (Downers Grove, Ill. /Downers Grove South) to step in and prove himself a viable asset.

“We are similar to our 2013 team in which we have three proven starters and an unproven closer,” the Port Chester N.Y. native McDonnell pointed out. “We feel Zack is going to be a super talented closer. He is one of the hardest working kids I have ever seen. He is so focused and so driven he just separates himself.”

In the batter’s box the Cards will be without a true big stick with the loss of the 2014 American Conference Player of the Year Jeff Gardner to the big leagues withstanding. However, Louisville fields a formidably deep lineup that is to be reckoned with.

“We lost a scary hitter in Gardner,” McDonnell remarked. “I don’t know who our scary hitter is this year, but we have a ton of balance one through nine. The exciting thing is our six through nine holes are not going to show any drop off.”

Sophomore OF Corey Ray (Chicago, Ill. /Simeon Career Academy), senior INF Zach Lucas (Louisville, Ky. /Butler), junior 1B/3B Danny Rosenbaum (Lafayette Hill, Pa. /Plymouth Whitemarsh), and sophomore INF Nick Solak (Woodridge, Ill. /Naperville North) are the type of guys — if synergy takes shape — that could have the Cards lineup proving destructive to any teams pitching staff.

Last year each one of those guys caught fire at different points throughout the year. Leadoff man senior SS Sutton Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa. /Louisville Ballard), will pack a wallop, and sophomore UTIL Will Smith (Louisville, Ky. /Kentucky Country Day) could be a guy that steps up this year as well.

“I’m hoping our six through nine is the best in the country,” McDonnell commented.

On the base paths last year Louisville finished second in the nation in steals for a remarkable third straight year. Attention to running the bases well is what McDonell hopes to be the difference maker given the lack of a big hitter present in the lineup.

“I enjoy teaching that side of the game,” McDonell, a former The Citadel standout explained. “It has to become a focal point for us this year. We are a very athletic team and with the right mindset we can shorten the distance, and use the angles with our team speed as a weapon offensively.”

Louisville comes in to the 2015 season ranked No. 13 in our College Baseball Central Top 25 poll, and there is no doubt McDonnell will prove that ranking just. Some re-shuffling on the coaching staff has McDonnell excited for this year’s potential. Roger Williams (Greenville, N.C.) gets the nod and moves up to Associate Head Coach, while new comers Eric Snider (Waterloo, Iowa) and Adam Vrable (Bay City, Mich.) round out the assistant coaching positions.

“We felt like we had one of the best staffs in the country last year,” McDonnell stated. “So I took personal pride in getting the best hitting/recruiting coaches I could for this program. Roger has proven he has the ability to progress pitchers at this level, and I knew right off the bat that Eric Snider was the right guy for us. Adam Vrable is so well respected and so well liked around the country it was amazing to hear what everyone had to say about this guy. What a phenomenal coach and I am excited about the value and experience Adam is bringing to the club.”

Louisville did not lose one single commitment in-spite of the coaching changes that sent former assistant coaches Chris Lemonis and Kyle Cheesebrough to Indiana University. The prestigious program boasts one of the top academic performances in the country as well, sporting a team GPA last year of over 3.0.

“If you’re going to pick Louisville to come and play ball, you are going to understand our expectations on and off the field,” McDonnell solidified.

Matthew Gray is a national writer for College Baseball Central and a member of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, granting him an official vote annually on which coaches and players will be inducted. Matthew is also a member of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, which gives him official votes in the Dick Howser Trophy (Player of the Year), Regional Players of the Year and NCBWA All-America voting. Matthew is college baseball's go to source for exclusive player, coach, scout and executive interview based articles. He is at the forefront of prospect knowledge in the nation, and owns a strong managerial and professional background which includes over 25 years of experience as an author, scout, coach and athlete. Matthew has two daughters, Shelby, and Michelle. Follow Matthew on Twitter @CBCBaseball95