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August 6, 2007

Rising programs: No. 5 Louisville

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    With fall workouts in the not too distant future, we continue our inside look at many programs around the country.

    In our latest series, we breakdown the nation's Top 10 Rising Programs.

    Though the top spot won't be unveiled until later this week, we continue the countdown with a team that wowed the college baseball community in 2007 - Louisville.

    Some doubted the Cardinals during Big East play, but when the dust settled they had the last laugh with an unexpected trip to the College World Series.

    In just his first season at Louisville, coach Dan McDonnell transformed the program from a team hoping to make a Regional to a national contender.

    Rising Programs: No. 5 Louisville
    Why are they rising?
    Okay, so the Cardinals have to replace consistent contributors such as second baseman Logan Johnson and outfielder Boomer Whiting, among others. However, the future of the program is still incredibly bright. Though replacing Johnson, Whiting and others is a tough chore to complete, the Cardinals now have the confidence they need with head coach Dan McDonnell and an outstanding coaching staff leading the charge. The Cardinals must replace most of their offensive lineup, but the return of hard-hitting third baseman Chris Dominguez is a bright spot. Additionally, the Cardinals will also welcome back weekend starters Justin Marks and Zack Pitts. Above all else, Louisville knows what it takes to reach the College World Series. With a trip to Omaha behind them, the Cards should enter each season with high expectations.

    2007 Year in Review
    When previous head coach Lelo Prado left Louisville for South Florida, some thought it would take years for the Cardinals to make an imprint on the national stage. That simply wasn't the case, thanks to coach Dan McDonnell, pitching coach Roger Williams and others. After taking the head job, McDonnell entered his first fall with the idea that his team was NCAA Tournament capable. However, a berth in the CWS was unexpected. With St. John's, Rutgers and Louisville leading the charge, the Big East was surprisingly competitive in 2007. Additionally, the Cardinals finished third in the league with an impressive 19-8 record. After playing well at the Big East Tournament, the Cardinals continued their surprising run by winning the Columbia, Mo. Regional. The Cards then defeated hard-hitting Oklahoma State in the Super Regional round. Though unable to win the national title, Louisville made a huge statement in '07.

    What the future holds
    From now until the start of the 2008 season, any remaining Cardinal critic will use the phrase one-year wonder to their advantage. It's Louisville's job to prove the doubters wrong. Without Whiting, Johnson, Burton, Howes and others next season, the Cardinals obviously have a tough job on their hands. However, how many of us thought UL would be CWS bound in 2007? Not many. Even with some important questions present, the Cards should feel confident with weekend starters Pitts and Marks returning to the rotation. Additionally, slugger Dominguez should raise his batting average while also hitting for power. In 2007, Dominguez hit for power but lacked an overly impressive average. Looking beyond 2008, the Cards are receiving interest from several talented recruits. They also have one of the nation's best coaching staffs.

    Kendall's analysis
    After keeping up with Dan McDonnell's coaching career at Ole Miss and listening to his peers, I thought the talented coach would be a good addition to the Louisville program. But I must admit, I didn't think the Cardinals would make it to Omaha until they hosted the Super Regional against Oklahoma State. It's not that I doubted the Cards, it just seemed like their luck would eventually run out. Fortunately for McDonnell and his team, their season ended in Omaha - a place where every coach hopes to end the year. Watching them up close in Omaha, it became very apparent that they're one of the nation's rising programs. Not only did they have an impressive lineup, they also had a talented pitching staff. As long as McDonnell, Williams and others stick around, the state of the Louisville program is strong. That relationship isn't likely to end soon.

    Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at kendall@rivals.com.