LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Reeling from a rare series sweep and a disappointing season so far, Louisville's baseball team got a much-needed jolt of optimism about generating a late-season run by upsetting No. 2 Vanderbilt Tuesday in the Battle for the Barrell rivalry.
With only three weeks remaining in the regular season, the win should provide a spark for the Cardinals (24-14, 14-9 ACC) to build momentum for the ACC Tournament and enhance their chances for earning one of the top 16 seeds for the NCAA Tournament.
However, in his post-game press conference, UofL coach Dan McDonnell was more interested in airing his exasperation and annoyance with the limited fan attendance at Jim Patterson Stadium.
In cooperation with the Kentucky Governor's office, UofL officials determined prior to the season that the Cards' home attendance would be limited to 20 percent to allow for social distancing. That's 880 fans in the 4,000-seat stadium.
"I'm beyond frustrated. I'm tired of it," McDonnell said. "We're an outdoor sport - I mean, come on, let's go people. Put on The Masters, watch the Derby, watch the games in the SEC and other ballparks. It's an outdoor sport. You want to risk it, you risk it. I'm tired of playing games without people in the stands. So, let's open it up and let's let our fans come, and let's let them enjoy some Louisville baseball."
UofL has applied to the NCAA to host a regional and super regional and McDonnell believes the current limit could affect the school's chances to land that honor when sites are announced Monday. He would like to see the restriction ended for the Cards' last two ACC series at home, beginning with Duke this weekend.
"Then I'll be a little more excited to host a regional," McDonnell said. "Unfortunately, we haven't had a regional atmosphere yet."
In response to McDonell's complaints, UofL announced Wednesday afternoon that the school had sought and received permission to increase the percentage capacity for Louisville baseball home games to approximately 50 percent effectively immediately. That means that about 2,000 fans will be allowed, starting with this weekend's Duke series.
Although social distancing guidelines are being eased, masks will still be required to be worn at all times inside the stadium unless eating or drinking. Children ages 5 years and under will not be required to wear a mask.
Besides Duke (19-18, 9-15 ACC), UofL will host Miami (24-15, 15-14) May 20-22 on the final weekend of the regular season, sandwiched around a road series at North Carolina (20-21, 9-15). In addition to those nine games, though, McDonnell is trying to add a weekday game or two.
"I will say, so our fans are aware, we're trying to get a couple midweek games," McDonnell said. "I think we're going to get one, maybe two, and I would ecstatic if we got three. We're definitely going to try to add a couple of midweek games."
With Duke, UNC and Miami being three of the last four teams in the Coastal Division standings, the Cards certainly have the opportunity for a strong finish and are still very much in the hunt for the Atlantic Division and the No. 1 seed in the league tourney. They trail division leader Notre Dame (24-8, 21-80, which was picked to finish seventh in the ACC coaches' preseason poll, by just a game in the loss column.
UofL, the preseason favorite, has won the Atlantic Division title four of the six years it has been in the league. Clemson won the division in 2018 and the season was canceled last year due to the pandemic. The Cards have already lost as many or more ACC games than in all but one of their previous seasons. Their past records: 2015--25-5; 2016--22-8; 2017--23-6; 2018--18-12; 2019--21-9.
McDONNELL CITES INCONSISTENCY
Louisville's win over Vandy (32-10) came on the heels of a discouraging series at Clemson as the Cards not only dropped all three games, but looked terrible doing it, giving up 31 runs and 26 hits, including seven home runs. It was the first time they had been swept in 59 ACC series and the first time in any league series since 2011 when they fell to Seton Hall in Big East play. Since beating Notre Dame on March 26, UofL is 8-9.
The three-game skid resulted in the Cards plummeting seven to eight spots in the various national polls and a fall to No. 55 in the RPI. The disastrous series ended a 10-game layoff for the Cards, necessitated because the Pittsburgh series was canceled due to COVID-19 issues.
But UofL looked like a different team against the Commodores, especially its pitching staff, which limited the visitors' high-powered offense to six hits. Starter Carter Lohman was solid, allowing two hits and one earned run, while relievers Ean Webster, Tate Kuehner and Adam Elliott were also effective. The quartet combined to strike out nine batters.
Offensively, Alex Binela and Henry Davis each homered and had two hits, along with Luke Brown. The Cards, who entered the game with 93 stolen bases -- third nationally -- also put pressure on Vandy with aggressive baserunning, even though they didn't add to their stolen base total. And they left only two runners in scoring position.
"For us to be the team we need it to be it's a little bit of everything, and I think this shows how talented we are," McDonnell said. "It hasn't been the smoothest year for several reasons. We've been very inconsistent. Coming off that layoff affected us more than I thought it would. We tried to keep our edge while also trying to let some guys rest. Tried a good balance, but nothing replaces playing the game on a consistent basis. So it's good we were able to get this game in; I was worried about the weather."
In another upheaval for Louisville's 2021-22 basketball roster, sophomore forward Quinn Slazinski announced Tuesday on his social media accounts that he has put his name in the transfer portal.
In a news release issued by UofL, the 6-foot-8 Texas native said, "The city of Louisville has shown this kid from Houston so much love ever since I committed. I have appreciated everything and will take a piece of the Ville with me as I continue my college basketball career. I have decided it's best for my career to enter the transfer portal."
This past season Slazinski started eight of the 20 games he played, averaging 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds. His 124 points and 71 rebounds were a vast improvement over his freshman year when he contributed only 15 points and 10 rebounds.
His best two games last season were against Wisconsin when he scored a career-best 11 points, along with five rebounds, and against Notre Dame, when he had 10 points and five boards.
"We want to thank Quinn for his time at Louisville," coach Chris Mack said in the release. "He was a good ambassador of the program, worked hard on and off the floor and put his teammates first. We wish him all the best in his collegiate career moving forward."
Slazinski is the third player to transfer from UofL since the end of the season, joining Aidan Igiehon and Josh Nickelberry. Igiehon has committed to Grand Canyon and Nickelberry to LaSalle. In addition, David Johnson and Carlik Jones entered the NBA Draft.
Slazinkski's departure also means there are just two players left from Mack's so-called "super six" signees in the class of 2019 -- Samuell Williamson and Jae'Lyn Withers.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at email@example.com.