Within just days of his arrival at the University of Louisville, head baseball coach Dan McDonnell announced the hiring of Chris Lemonis as his top assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
Lemonis, having completed his seventh season with the Cardinals, employs an aggressive hitting philosophy that he shares with McDonnell, and had an immediate impact with the Cardinals as U of L won a school-record 47 games on its way to the College World Series in Omaha in 2007, followed that with a BIG EAST Tournament title in 2008 and then added another NCAA Super Regional appearance and its first ever BIG EAST regular-season title in 2009. In 2010, Louisville won a second straight BIG EAST regular-season title and a school record 50 games, earned its first ever national seed (#7) for the NCAA Championships and hosted a second straight NCAA Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium. While making the transition to the new BBCOR bats, the Cardinals advanced to the NCAA Regional final in Tucson in 2012 while winning another BIG EAST regular season title before returning to Omaha and the CWS during a record-setting 2013 season in Louisville.
The 2013 campaign set new standards as the Cardinals won a school record 51 games, including a 16-game winning streak to close the regular season to clinch the fourth BIG EAST championship in five seasons. With a roster of talented players that Lemonis helped build as the lead recruiter, Louisville had two players (pitchers Nick Burdi and Jeff Thompson) earn All-America honors while a school record-tying 10 Cardinals earned All-BIG EAST accolades for the second straight season, including seven position players. Designated hitter Jeff Gardner was a First Team All-BIG EAST selection and finished with the season by hitting .337 with nine home runs and 43 RBI to lead the way for the Louisville offense. For his work with the Cardinals last season, Lemonis was selected as the 2013 ABCA/Baseball America Assistant Coach of the Year.
In his only season as a Cardinal, outfielder Coco Johnson earned Second Team All-BIG EAST honors and was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Regional in Louisville. The righty swinging Johnson hit .324 with eight home runs, 50 RBI and 26 stolen bases while starting 56 games. During the NCAA Regional, Johnson hit .455 with two home runs, six RBI and a stolen base to become the first Louisville player to earn MOP honors since Justin Marks in 2009. Shortstop Sutton Whiting hit .308 with 30 RBI and 24 stolen bases in his first season as a starter while earning Second Team All-BIG EAST honors, while third baseman Ty Young joined him on the second team after hitting .335 with four home runs, 58 RBI and 26 stolen bases. Earning Third Team All-BIG EAST honors from Louisville was outfielder Adam Engel, who ranked third nationally with 41 stolen bases, outfielder Cole Sturgeon, who led the Cardinals with a .339 average to go with 33 RBI, and second baseman Nick Ratajczak.
Following the season, Louisville was well represented during the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as seven members of the 2013 Cardinals were selected during the three-day event. Righthander Dace Kime was taken 79th overall by the Cleveland Indians in the third round of the 40-round draft, Thompson was selected 94th overall in the third round by the Detroit Tigers and Young was taken 218th overall in the seventh round by the Tampa Bay Rays to close day two. Johnson was taken in the 11th Round (322nd overall) by the Miami Marlins, righty Chad Green was selected in the 11th Round (336th overall) by the Detroit Tigers, lefty Cody Ege was taken in the 15th Round (460th overall) by the Texas Rangers and Engel was selected in the 19th Round (573rd overall) by the Chicago White Sox.
The 2012 season was an exciting time in the Louisville baseball program as 10 Cardinals earned All-BIG EAST honors, including six position players. Young led the Cardinals in hitting at .344 and was a Third Team All-BIG EAST selection, while Stewart Ijames was a Second Team All-BIG EAST honoree as the team's leader in home runs (12) and RBI (65). Engel was a Second Team All-BIG EAST selection while ranking fifth in the nation with 37 stolen bases, while Ratajczak, a Third Team All-BIG EAST second baseman, hit .343 overall and ranked fifth nationally in HBPs (28), 18th in runs scored with 64 and was the third toughest player in America to strikeout. Sturgeon and Gardner also earned All-BIG EAST honors as Louisville led the BIG EAST in numerous major offensive categories, including batting average, runs scored, stolen bases, doubles and slugging percentage.
The Cardinals' 2010 season included a pair of All-American hitters in Ryan Wright (Baseball America Second Team) and Phil Wunderlich (Baseball America Third Team) as well as six total position players earning All-BIG EAST honors. First baseman Andrew Clark and Wright were on the first team, while catcher Jeff Arnold, shortstop Adam Duvall, outfielder Stewart Ijames and Wunderlich earned second team honors. Wunderlich was also a semifinalist for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award. As a team, the Cardinals hit .314 in 2010 with 710 hits, 88 home runs and 473 runs scored.
Lemonis' tremendous work as the Cardinals' recruiting coordinator continued to be evident following the 2010 season as a school record 10 Louisville players were selected in the 2010 MLB Draft. The summer baseball scene was also highlighted by Wright, who became the second Louisville player in two seasons to play for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. He was Team USA's top everyday hitter at .361 overall to go with 18 runs scored, a pair of home runs and 12 RBI. Wright made 17 starts in 19 games overall and was named the top designated hitter at the 2010 World University Baseball Championships. A 2011 First Team All-BIG EAST selection, Wright completed his Louisville career by hitting .346 with 12 home runs and 52 RBI before being selected in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds.
The 2009 season featured a record-breaking season for Cards' all-time great Chris Dominguez as well as the emergence and continued improvement of numerous talented hitters like Wunderlich (Second Team All-American), Clark (All-BIG EAST, BIG EAST Tourney MVP), Wright (Freshman All-American) and Duvall (All-BIG EAST). Prior to being drafted in the third round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants, Dominguez set a school record with 25 home runs, added 82 RBI and hit .345 overall to earn First Team All-America honors as well as BIG EAST Player of the Year accolades for the second straight season. He closed his career in Louisville as the Cards' all-time leader in RBI with 218 and is ranked second in home runs with 61 and runs scored with 196.
During the 2008 season, the Cards batted .314 with 696 hits, which ranked 24th in the nation. The average was just higher than 2007's total of .313, which ranked 34th in the nation and was the highest team average for the Cardinals since 1992. Following 2007's school record 148 doubles, the Cards backed that up with 142 in 2008 to rank 19th nationally. Louisville was led at the plate in 2008 by All-BIG EAST selections Dominguez and Justin McClanahan. Dominguez hit .365 with 21 home runs and 75 RBI to earn All-America honors, while McClanahan led the team with a .372 average to go along with 12 home runs and 59 RBI.
The 2007 single-season totals in hits, home runs and RBI were also the highest in more than a decade. U of L was 37th in the nation in scoring, 26th in home runs and slugging percentage and 49th in doubles. The Cards set a school record, drilling 148 doubles, and nearly doubled the mark for steals in a season with a staggering 153.
Senior Isaiah Howes hit .275 with 13 doubles, six home runs and 41 RBI in 2006 before exploding in 2007 under Lemonis, batting .391 with 20 doubles, 18 home runs and 69 RBI. Howes, Logan Johnson (17) and Dominguez (15) were all in the top 50 in the nation in home runs. All three Cardinal outfielders were named to the All-BIG EAST first or second teams.
Cardinal batters ranked 1-2-3 in hits in the BIG EAST and were in three of the top four spots in runs and total bases, two of the top three in slugging, and four of the top six spots in RBI, including league leaders in hits, RBI, doubles, total bases and HBP. In the postseason, the Cards hit a scorching .353 with 24 doubles and 21 home runs in 11 games, including a .378 mark with 12 doubles and eight home runs in five regional games at Missouri. Six career offensive records were set under Lemonis and three single-season marks in 2007 at Louisville.
Along with his duties as hitting coach, Lemonis also serves as the Cardinals' recruiting coordinator where helps attract some of the best talent in the nation to Louisville. Since the arrival of Lemonis and the Cardinals' current coaching staff prior to 2007, U of L has signed some of the best recruiting classes in school history, including four straight Top 25 recruiting classes from 2008-2011.
Recognized as one of the top hitting coaches in the nation, Lemonis joined the Cards after 12 seasons as an assistant at his alma mater, The Citadel, where he served the previous four seasons as associate head coach to Fred Jordan. Lemonis and McDonnell were together as members of Jordan's staff from 1995-2000 after playing together from 1989-92.
Working primarily with the hitters and outfielders during his stay with the Bulldogs, 35 offensive records were established by hitters tutored by Lemonis. The Bulldogs finished first or second in the Southern Conference in seven of the 12 seasons Lemonis was on the staff and advanced to an NCAA Regional five times.
Of the 14 single-season team offensive records at The Citadel, nine were set by teams that Lemonis coached. The 2005 senior class saw three players combine to establish five career offensive records. Of the 14 individual career titles, all but two marks were set by players that competed under Lemonis, with one of those marks being career walks, set by McDonnell when he played for the Diamond Dogs.
During Lemonis' tenure at The Citadel, they had seven All-Americans, two Freshman All-Americans, 17 First Team All-Southern Conference performers, a Southern Conference Player of the Year and a Freshman of the Year. Twenty athletes moved on to play professional baseball following their playing days with the Bulldogs. Among those was professional third baseman Dallas McPherson, who hit .241 with one home run and 14 RBI in his second year of college ball before blossoming under Lemonis to put together seasons of .378-9-55 and .347-11-58. He was then tabbed by the Angels in the 2nd round with the 57th overall choice and made his MLB debut three seasons later.
Another individual who flourished under Lemonis was Philip Hartig, who broke more than 10 school and six Southern Conference career records. Hartig was one of only two players in Southern Conference history to earn first-team All-Conference honors during all four of his playing years, collecting 75 doubles, 14 triples, 64 home runs and 290 RBI during his career. Hartig was So-Con Player of the Year in 2001 and went to the Marlins in the 2001 Draft.
During the 2004 slate, Chip Cannon led the nation in walks with 71, hitting .358 with 20 doubles and a record-tying 17 home runs as senior before the Blue Jays selected him in the 8th round of the 2004 draft. In 2000, the Bulldogs' explosive offense was led by All-American Chris Morris, who led the nation in stolen bases with 84. A 15th-round selection by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, he became one of nine minor league players to ever steal over 100 bases in a season when he swiped 111 bags in 134 games for Peoria (A) in 2001.
Lemonis graduated from The Citadel in 1992, twice earning All-Southern Conference honors as a player and leading the team in home runs three times. He led the Bulldogs with a .367 average, 19 doubles, 52 runs, 10 home runs and 66 RBI as senior. He was also named to the 1993 All-Southern Conference Tournament team. He ranks in the top 15 all-time at The Citadel in RBI (152), 11th in home runs (23) and 10th in slugging percentage (.538).
A Myrtle Beach, S.C., native and 1988 graduate of Socastee High School, Lemonis is married to the former Jill MacEldowny of Greensboro, N.C. They have two daughters, Marissa and Mackenzie.