Cardinal Nine Set for 2007 Opener

 
Head Coach Dan McDonnell

Head Coach Dan McDonnell

Feb. 15, 2007

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - After mother nature foiled the scheduled debut this past Tuesday, the University of Louisville baseball team is now set to embark upon not only the 2007 season, but also the Dan McDonnell era on Friday at 1:00 p.m. ET in Hattiesburg, Miss. in the Coca Cola Classic against Northwestern State.

U of L junior Zack Pitts (0-0, 0.00) is scheduled to face Demon sophomore Jimmy Heard (0-0, 3.60) Friday. Louisville will meet host Southern Miss on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and Southern Illinois Sunday at 12:00 p.m.

There are 20 upperclassmen on the University of Louisville baseball roster, with three of the seniors spending their fifth season with the Cardinals.

That is in sharp contrast to the coaching staff for the Louisville baseball team in 2007.

McDonnell, and assistants Chris Lemonis and Roger Williams will be spending their first season in the Red and Black.

The eight upperclassmen that are primary position players returning to the Cardinals have amassed 221 doubles, 27 triples, 61 home runs and 546 RBI in 3,655 at bats entering the 2007 season.

McDonnell, who is no stranger to the game, has spent 17 successful seasons in college baseball as a player and assistant coach. He does begin his first journey as the head coach of a baseball team.

His players have described him as organized, driven, intense, emotional and a players coach with an open door policy.

Those attributes, complemented by the hard work and demeanor of Lemonis and Williams brought an extremely successful off-season for U of L baseball.

The first season in the BIG EAST provided the Cardinals with a menu of new opponents with a lack of familiarity with players, coaches, cities and ballparks.

A late hot streak produced a third place finish and the stretch continued into the BIG EAST Championship and a runner-up finish.

While there will be new competition, the conference will more resemble a pair of sneakers that have seen some action as opposed to a pair of patent leather loafers one would slip on at a wedding.

In 2006, Logan Johnson was named to the All-BIG EAST Second team and teammates Chris Cates and Derrick Alfonso garnered Third Team honors. Their success carried over into the preseason with Cates and Johnson being joined by Jorge Castillo to comprise three-fourths of the preseason All-BIG EAST infield.

Johnson, whose seven home runs in league play was the top total in the BIG EAST, will be in the lineup as an everyday player either at second base or designated hitter. He is also capable of playing all of the infield spots and as a corner outfielder.

Johnson lead the team in seven offensive categories, including home runs with 10.

Cates led the league in assists, establishing a school record with 213 and with another solid season, he has a chance to vault into the top 10 in numerous offensive and defensive categories in U of L history. He also paced the Cardinals in batting average, hitting .332 with a school record 16 sac bunts and just 15 strikeouts in 232 at bats.

The best defensive shortstop in the league has started 163 consecutive games for the Cardinals on the middle infield, and has only missed one game in his career, when on March 7, 2004 he sat out game two of a doubleheader against Kent. His 35 career SAC's is also a new Cardinal standard.

Castillo will share time at first base with senior Daniel Burton. Castillo his .317 with 16 doubles, four home runs and 44 RBI, while Burton batted an even three-hundred with 17 doubles and 33 runs driven in. Burton is also able to play in all three outfield positions, giving McDonnell additional flexibility with lefty-righty match-ups.

The other corner will be manned by redshirt freshman Chris Dominguez , who was rated the top high school third baseman by Baseball America in 2005 and was a two-time HS All-American. He missed last season with a broken arm suffered at FAU the opening week of the season.

Dominguez belted 12 home runs to lead the NECBL last summer, more than four other teams in the wood bat summer league.

JUCO transfer Justin McClanahan, MVP of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Collegiate Baseball League All-Star game in 2006 and regular season MVP in 2005 will also see time at third.

His lengthy resume includes a school-record 18 home runs last season, ranking him fourth in NJCAA Division I baseball. He batted .410 with 13 doubles, 57 runs, 59 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 52 games last season for the Patriots on his way to All-Conference and All-District honors. He established school career records for home runs (25) and hits (139) at NWSCC, and ranks 2nd all-time in at bats (345), runs (107), doubles (29), and RBI (105).

He was twice named Maryland Player of the Year, leading Riverdale Baptist to four straight Maryland private school state championships during his prep career.

Fellow redshirt Corey Osborne can fit in on the left side of the infield in either spot.

Vanderbilt transfer Greg Del George, a switch-hitting middle infielder can play both middle infield positions and will further add to the versatility in the Cardinal lineup.

Alfonso, the only catcher with collegiate experience has plenty. He has been the everyday catcher for virtually every inning of his first two seasons of college ball. He has nailed 41% of baserunners attempting to steal against him, including a blinding 10 of 20 in BIG EAST play last season.

A bonus to his outstanding play behind the dish was a .313 average, 14 doubles and 33 RBI at the plate. The team was 2-14 in games that he did not catch, as he was forced into duty at third base.

Behind Alfonso are sophomore Justin Haywood and freshman Jeff Arnold, Sam Magnuson and Jared Yates.

The outfield will be anchored by fifth-year senior Boomer Whiting in center. He stole seven bases in as many attempts before season-ending surgery halted his 2006 season after just 11 games.

As a junior he batted .327 with 26 stolen bases and 23 bunt singles in the leadoff spot, helping him to second team all-conference honors.

Redshirt freshman Cory Dunning can fill in behind Whiting, as can true freshman Chris Pelaez - who gives the lineup another lefty stick.

Senior Isaiah Howes will be in left field, as he has for the better part of the last three seasons. He batted .363 with 22 runs, 11 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 20 RBI and six steals in as many attempts over the final 28 games of the regular season. His 10 doubles and three triples in BIG EAST games were both second in the league.

Sophomore Tyler Christensen will back up Howes in left. The switch-hitting Louisville Male HS product was a team-best 3 for 10 in pinch-hitting situations.

Right field will see senior Pete Rodriguez, who had a solid summer in the Valley League with the Luray Wranglers, hitting .275 with 12 doubles, a triple and two home runs, scoring 32 runs and driving in 25. He lead the team with 22 walks, was hit by a pitch nine times and was 7 for 9 on steals, making just one miscue in the field. With the Cards in 2006 Rodriguez hit .326 with seven doubles, three home runs and 16 RBI in just 138 at bats.

Sophomore Alec Lowrey is recovering from shoulder surgery and should show the effects of full health as a reserve in the outfield.

There are a lot of questions to be answered in the pitching rotation, but the potential answers give U of L fans reason for optimism under Williams, one of the top pitching coaches in the nation.

Pitts has emerged as the Friday starter with a solid summer for the Concord Quarry Dogs in which he represented the Northern Division in the NECBL All-Star Game.

Pitts tossed just 31.1 innings as a sophomore, but he appears to be set as the ace of the Cardinal staff.

A number of players will battle for the final spots in the rotation, including fifth-year senior Trystan Magnuson, who has lead the team in ERA each of the last two seasons, posting a 4-2 record last season and limiting opponents to a .227 average.

The former walk-on from Manual HS may also be a candidate for the closer position.

A pair of transfers may also figure in as frontline starters for the Cards, as JUCO transfers James Belanger and Colby Wark both have collegiate experience following their successful high school campaigns.

Scott Jenkins is recovering from surgery and the hope is that he can return as conference play begins. The senior righty posted a 2.47 ERA and .191 OPBA as he was limited to just five starts before surgery last season.

In a similar situation is senior lefty Skylar Meade, who sat out last season due to surgery. After working his way into the weekend rotation in 2005, he posted a tidy 4-1 record.

A pair of freshmen will undoubtedly play an important role for the Cardinals in 2007. Lefty Justin Marks and righty Tyler Mathis have both demonstrated the ability to compete at the D-I level and could easily complete the weekend rotation.

Marks helped perennial power Owensboro Catholic to a state title in 2005.

Mathis went 38-4 during his four seasons of prep baseball at Covington High School, with the win total placing him in a tie for second in Tennessee history.

During his senior campaign he compiled a 12-2 record, to go with a 0.85 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 99.1 IP, compiling three shutouts.

Kyle Hollander, a transfer from Oklahoma State, brings plenty of experience to the hill. As a sophomore at Odessa College he tallied 11 saves, striking out 40 over 34.0 IP and as a freshman at Hutchinson Community College, Hollander garnered all-conference honors, notching 11 saves.

Senior Blake Williams returns to the squad after a year away from baseball, while lefty transfer Kenny Barnett brings two seasons of college baseball experience. Fellow transfer Kyle Thornton, who has been drafted twice, posted a 1.29 ERA while compiling his school-record and NJCAA-leading 17 saves in 20 appearances, striking out a staggering 35 batters in just 21.0 innings of work.

Sophomore lefty Gavin Logsdon and righty Andrew Salguiero both bring a season of NCAA baseball experience to the table, while freshman lefty Braxton Graven will look to fill some innings.

 

 

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