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January 11, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 22 Louisville

Head coach: Dan McDonnell
Last season: 47-24, 19-8 in Big East
Postseason: The Cardinals finished a game out of first in conference, but made up for it in the postseason. After winning the Columbia Regional, the Cardinals won the Louisville Super Regional to advance to the CWS for the first time in school history.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

When Dan McDonnell left his post as an assistant at Ole Miss for the head job at Louisville, he had hoped to turn the Cardinals into a consistent winner in due time.

It didn't take long.

The Cardinals had a dream season in 2007. Not only did they win over 40 games, they also reached the College World Series for the first time in school history.

With winning a national title the ultimate goal of every program, the dream continues for the Cards.

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Sophomore left-hander Justin Marks hopes to have another successful campaign.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Derrick Alfonso
1B Andrew Clark
2B Justin McClanahan
SS John Dao
3B Chris Dominguez
OF Tyler Mickits
OF Drew Haynes
OF Chris Pelaez
DH Alec Lowrey
SP Zack Pitts
SP Justin Marks
SP B.J. Rosenberg

With several key hitters from last year's team now in the professional ranks or graduated, the Cardinals have some huge holes to fill at the plate.

Fortunately, the pitching staff is in great shape.

Zack Pitts and Justin Marks spearhead an outstanding weekend rotation, while Gavin Logsdon is the headliner out of the bullpen.

Even with some question marks, the Cardinals are confident. Of course, last season proved that anything is possible.

Offense

When the Cardinals finished last season with a trip to the College World Series, they ended the year with an impressive .313 team batting average.

It's not a coincidence those numbers led to many wins. With that in mind, the Cards enter 2008 with some gaping holes to fill.

After losing Daniel Burton, Chris Cates, Isaiah Howes, Logan Johnson, Jorge Castillo and Boomer Whiting, the Cards hope to somehow return to normalcy.

UL is led at the plate by hard-hitting third baseman Chris Dominguez and talented catcher Derrick Alfonso.

Dominguez batted .262 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs last season, while Alfonso hit .274 with five homers and 31 RBIs.

The Cards are also counting on talented newcomer Andrew Clark.

Other position starters include Justin McClanahan, John Dao, Tyler Mickits, Drew Haynes, Chris Pelaez and Alec Lowrey.

Mickits, Haynes and Pelaez lead the charge in the outfield. Mickits is a physical hitter, while Haynes is a defensive specialist. Additionally, Pelaez has a chance to be a five-tool player.

Looking at the rest of the lineup, McClanahan has a chance to be a major power producer, while Dao is expected to be an immediate contributor after a successful stint at Northeast Texas CC.

Starting pitching

Besides a productive offense, having a stable weekend rotation is the most important factor in experiencing success.

Louisville is in great shape on the mound.

The Cardinals welcome back two of the nation's best weekend starters right-hander Zack Pitts and left-hander Justin Marks.

Pitts, a senior, finished last season with impressive numbers. He went 10-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 121 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 91 and walked 24, while opponents hit him at a .231.

Surprisingly enough, Marks was even more impressive.

The sophomore went 9-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 104 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 87 and walked 38, while opponents hit him at a .189 clip.

Senior right-hander B.J. Rosenberg could be a surprise.

Rosenberg missed last season because of an injury. But in 2006, the talented righty went 6-5 with a 4.72 ERA in 89 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 49 and walked 25.

If the weekend rotation emulates last season's performances, the Cards are in business.

Bullpen

With one of the nation's best weekend rotations, the Cardinals might not need too much from their bullpen. But if they do, they're in good shape.

The Cardinals must replace Trystan Magnuson and Kyle Hollander from last year's team, while senior right-hander Colby Wark will miss the season because of an injury.

Even with those losses, UL is still in good shape.

The Louisville bullpen is led by junior left-hander Gavin Logsdon. Logsdon appeared in 32 games last season and had a 1.92 ERA in 51 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 33 and walked 15, while opponents hit him at a. 205 clip.

The Cardinals are also counting on Neil Holland, Matt Lea, Tyler Mathis and Thomas Royse to log significant innings.

Lea transferred from Mississippi State and has upside, while the Cards are hoping Royse will be the closer.

Like last season, the Cards have depth in the bullpen.

Outlook with postseason forecast
After making history last season, the Cardinals enter 2008 hoping to establish consistency. In a way, that could be tough. The Cardinals must replace their top six hitters from last year's team, so inexperience could be an issue. However, while the offense has much to prove, the pitching staff is in outstanding shape. Weekend starters Zack Pitts and Justin Marks are front-line pitchers, while B.J. Rosenberg is expected to blossom after missing last season because of an injury. The Cards will compete with St. John's for the Big East title. After that, it's anybody's game. If the offense rises to the occasion, the Cards have a good shot at returning to Omaha. If not, a Super Regional berth is probably all they can hope for.

Shoes to Fill

The Cardinals are in great shape on the mound, but have some huge holes to fill at the plate.

UL must replace its top six hitters from last year's team Isaiah Howes, Boomer Whiting, Logan Johnson, Jorge Castillo, Daniel Burton and Chris Cates.

Howes, Whiting and Johnson each hit over .360 last season, while Castillo and Burton each hit over .305.

Cates was another contributor. Famous for his size, the gritty veteran recorded 17 steals and ended the year with a .957 fielding percentage at shortstop.

Replacing the Big Six will be tough, but the Cardinals have the players to overcome the losses to some extent.

Must Step Up

As Louisville made history last season with its first College World Series appearance, the offense ultimately led the charge.

Unfortunately for UL, they have the tough task of replacing several key offensive contributors from last year's team.

That's why redshirt sophomore third baseman Chris Dominguez must have an even more productive 2008 campaign.

Dominguez displayed amazing power last season, but struck out too much (88 strikeouts) and ended the year with a less than stellar .262 batting average.

On the positive side, he hit 15 homers and knocked in 61 runs. He also had a .520 slugging percentage and finished the year with a team-best 141 total bases.

Dominguez vastly improved down the stretch last season. He also put together an impressive fall. With the Cardinals needing more production, the hard-hitting infielder should rise to the occasion.

Impact Newcomer

With much turnover in the offensive lineup, the Cardinals need several players to rise to the occasion this spring.

Ole Miss transfer Andrew Clark highlights the list.

In his first season with the Rebels, Clark was well on his way to becoming a consensus Freshman All-American. But after 30 games, Clark and the Rebels decided to part ways.

Clark finished his freshman campaign hitting .311 with four homers and 12 RBIs. He also slugged .466 and had a .395 on-base percentage.

Though speculation has surrounded Clark's departure from Ole Miss, being closer to home (Indiana) was a big reason for leaving Oxford, Miss.

Louisville is looking forward to having Clark's bat in the lineup.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 21.