There is no sugar coating it. The University of Louisville has spent the better part of eight months viewing the world through two black eyes while consistently enduring unexpected punches to the gut. The basketball scandal irritatingly hangs over the program like allergy season in the Ohio Valley and question marks continue to surround President Ramsey and the leadership of the university. Spring is the perpetual season of blossoming and rebirth. In Louisville, spring 2016 is about Cardinal Baseball. The "Cardinal Nine" have offered a glimpse of what is to come and their pursuit of a first championship may be the starting point for a much needed Cardinal resurrection.
If one were to rewind the clocks to this exact time three years ago, the University of Louisville and its athletic program were the envy of the collegiate world. The ACC announcement had been made thereby saving athletics and academics from a disastrous purgatory, men's basketball had captured its third national championship (first in 27 years), the football team had just dominated perennial powerhouse Florida in the Sugar Bowl, women's basketball was the national runner up, and the baseball team had a real chance at a championship as it embarked on its second trip to Omaha. 2013 was the "Year of the Cardinal". Cardinal Pride was bursting at the seams and an era of dominance seemed inevitable.
Fast forward to now and oh how things have changed. The football program re-hired a controversial figure to lead it into the ACC, men's basketball was denied a repeat chance at the title by the Calipari Wildcats, women's basketball has been unable to return to a final four, the baseball team cannot seem to find success in Omaha and lost in the super regional a year ago in excruciating fashion, Coach Pitino and his program have been dragged through the mud at every turn due to a shocking and embarrassing recruiting "sex scandal", in a very questionable process the university self-imposed a NCAA Tournament ban on its men's basketball team, Coach Petrino had to replace four coaches during the offseason, President Ramsey and the board of trustees have had a very public/private feud, and Louisville's best big man is likely staying in the NBA Draft. Yes, that was a long list and sure there has been some good mixed in with the bad, but the university, its athletic program, and this city are certainly ready for a clean slate.
A strong argument can be made that Louisville is the team to beat this year for the College World Series. The Cardinals have the best record at 46-10, are number one in the RPI, and are a lock to be a national seed which means they will play at home until Omaha. Louisville's pitching staff is essentially unrivaled and Corey Ray leads a batting lineup that sends tremors through every pitcher that takes the opposing mound. Ray is rated the number one MLB prospect and will likely be the top overall pick in the draft. Dan McDonnell has turned Cardinal Baseball into a national power and premier program, all that remains is a championship.
Omaha is Louisville's forbidden fruit. They've been, it has been tasted, but the promise and fulfillment remains beyond the Cardinals' reach. Coach McDonnell's time has come and 2016 is Louisville's breakthrough season. Denny Crum reached two final fours before finally crashing the party in 1980. Rick Pitino needed 11 seasons before returning the Cardinals to glory. Louisville Baseball has paid its dues and 2016 will continue to be a banner year.
10 years ago, the idea of looking to baseball to lead our school, our athletic program, and our city out of the doldrums would have been unfathomable. However, Louisville Baseball is a prime example in a long list of accomplishments and progress that embody just how enviable the University of Louisville truly is. Tom Jurich's philosophy and tireless efforts coupled with unwavering community support that grows with each passing year has given new meaning to the saying "a rising tide lifts all boats". Success is infectious at Louisville and championships are now the expectation across the board.
Every supporter of the University of Louisville is ready to rearview mirror these past eight months. High expectations and a preseason ranking have been placed upon the football team, Coach Pitino will indeed return to March Madness, and Cardinal Baseball offers us all more than just hope. 2016 begins now as Dan McDonnell and his top ranked Cardinals enter the postseason. Perhaps they'll make it to Omaha and just maybe they'll capture their first championship. Even if the Cardinal Nine fall short, baseball is just the beginning. The Cardinals are coming back to where they belong and the view from the top will look better than ever.