Louisville continues record-setting season

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By ANNIE MOORE
College Contributor Network

Baseball is on the rise in Louisville, Kentucky. And for a town that is the home to the most famous name in baseball equipment, that's saying something. 160 years after J. F. Hillerich opened a wood shop in Louisville that would eventually become Hillerich and Bradsby, baseball is alive and well in the river city. These days though, the attention is centered four miles up the road, where the Louisville Cardinals baseball team is headed into the postseason on the heels of a record-setting season.

Louisville will host a College World Series regional for the third year in a row, the fifth time in program history. The Cardinals were selected as a No. 3 seed in the tournament, marking only the second time the baseball team has been ranked in program history. All of these accolades come after a whirlwind tour through Louisville's first season in the competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals won 25 of their 30 regular season conference game, setting a conference record on the way to a 43-16 overall record.

Louisville won the regular season ACC title, before falling in the conference tournament with back-to-back losses against Clemson and Florida State. Louisville's pitching powerhouse threesome of Kyle Funkhouser, Brendan McKay and Josh Rogers was extremely effective during the regular season, but stumbled in the conference tournament.

Both Funkhouser and McKay picked up losses in the tournament. Funkhouser threw against Clemson and racked up seven runs on nine hits, while McKay threw against the Seminoles, with three runs on four hits. Despite those setbacks, the three average a 2.89 ERA and have only given up four home runs all year. McKay was named as a semifinalist for the 2015 USA Baseball Golden Spikes award.

The Cardinals will also look to heat the bats back up for a College World Series run. In the ACC Tournament, Louisville was outscored a combined 17-9, 13-2 in its two losses. Sophomores Corey Ray and Nick Solak lead the team in batting averages with .324 and .327 marks, respectively. Ray has a team-leading 11 homeruns on the year. Ray and Solak are the only two players on the team who have started and played in all 59 games for the Cardinals this season.

The Road to Omaha won't start easy for the Cards, who take on in-state rival Morehead State Friday night at 6 p.m. The Eagles lead the NCAA in batting average, home runs, runs, hits and slugging percentage. Funkhouser will get the start on the mound for Louisville and says he feels ready despite struggling down the stretch.

"I feel good, it's a new season now. Everyone's 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA," Funkhouser said. "Just a couple of mental tweaks, I'll just prepare for a couple of days and get ready for Friday."

The baseball Cardinals have stepped up to the top tier of collegiate baseball since head coach Dan McDonnell joined in 2006. Since his arrival, the Cardinals have made three trips to Omaha for the College World Series, the first coming in 2007 just 353 days after McDonnell took the job. The Cards have never had a losing season under McDonnell, his career total at Louisville totals 402-175.

Louisville will look to continue its good fortune at home, this season the Cards are 25-6 at Jim Patterson Stadium. This is undoubtedly an extremely talented team, it is also a team trying to rebound from recent stumbles. Only time will tell if this adversity causes the Cards to crumble, or to rise to play its best baseball. If it's the later, this Louisville team will reach its third consecutive college world series.

While the city of Louisville has always had a close relationship with America's pastime, that relationship has taken new form in a group of young men, and their fearless leader. This era of Louisville baseball has changed how the program is viewed on a national scale, and risen to the level of the other sports in the university. Friday begins a new chapter for Louisville baseball, and it's sure to be page-turner.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports
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