The Road to Omaha doesn’t begin in the spring; coaches already are driving their players toward the College World Series. It’s the rise-n-grind that players tweet about; it’s the workout pictures that are shared on social media. It’s the day-in, day-out work that coaches and players hope will separate their team in June. Before the first pitch in February, NCAA.com is highlighting teams that may reach the Mecca of college baseball: Omaha.
• 2014: 50-17 (19-5 American Athletic Conference)
• Head coach: Dan McDonnell (ninth year)
Cardinals’ team website
1. What can fans expect from this squad in 2015? Fans can expect a team anchored by strong pitching and a club that is aggressive offensively. Louisville returns the top two pitchers in its weekend rotation (Kyle Funkhouser, Anthony Kidston) as well as four of its top five starting arms from last season. At the plate, the Cardinals put pressure on their opponents by attacking fastballs and being aggressive on the bases and that should be the case again in 2015. With a formula that has produced three trips to Omaha in the last eight seasons, including back-to-back CWS berths in 2013 and 2014, Louisville returns a strong core of experience and talent in 2015.
2. What is the one thing that this year’s team does best? Entering the season, the starting pitching on Louisville’s 2015 squad is expected to be the strongest component. The Cardinals return their top two starting pitchers from last season’s CWS club in All-American junior righty Kyle Funkouser (13-3 1.94 ERA, 122 SO) and junior righty Anthony Kidston (9-1, 3.40 ERA, 69 SO) as well as a pair of sophomore lefties (Josh Rogers, Drew Harrington) with starting experience from 2014. With the associate head coach Roger Williams in his ninth season directing the Louisville pitching staff, the Cardinals have consistently ranked among the nation’s top teams on the mound and that should be a strength once again for Louisville in 2015.
3. Bottom of the ninth, tied game, two outs, winning run on second … which player does this team want to step up to the plate? As a freshman in 2014, infielder Nick Solak emerged as one of the Cardinals’ most reliable hitters late in the season while displaying a flare for the dramatic in the Super Regional triumph against Kennesaw State. In Game 1, he delivered a two-out, two-run double in the eighth inning of Louisville’s 5-3 victory against the Owls, while a day later, he delivered a fifth-inning, two-run homer that pushed the Cardinals ahead for good in a 7-4 win to clinch the College World Series berth.
4. If this team had one game to win, which pitcher would get the ball? Kyle Funkhouser would get the ball for the Cardinals in a must-win situation after emerging in 2014 as one of the nation’s best arms. Leading the nation and setting a school record for wins while finishing 13-3 overall in 2014, Funkhouser is ranked among the nation’s top professional prospects and has been able to translate that high ceiling to impressive results for the Cardinals.
5. Who are we most likely to see make a “SportsCenter Top 10” play on this squad? Senior shortstop Sutton Whiting has a history of making dynamic, highlight reel plays up the middle of the field for the Louisville defense. With great range and athleticism and a strong arm, the speedy Whiting has more than his fair share of top level defensive plays with the Cardinals.
6. What does Omaha mean to this team? Since head coach Dan McDonnell’s first season in Louisville in 2007, which ended in the program’s first trip to the College World Series, Omaha has become an important part of the culture with the Cardinals. Omaha represents the pinnacle of the sport, with the brightest lights and biggest stage, and it is a yearly goal for the Louisville baseball program. Omaha is a special place with a special history and Louisville baseball is honored to be a part of that.
— Louisville Baseball Coaching Staff
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