Cardinals, Big East Flying High
By Andrew Finley
for Big East coaches' survey results
Last season was a banner
year for the Big East as Louisville advanced to the College
World Series, and the conference sent three teams to the NCAA
The conference will look
to replicate and perhaps even improve on last year’s success.
USF coach Lelo Prado predicted that “this year there will be
four or five teams going to the [NCAA] tourney.”
The Cardinals reached
Omaha despite not winning the Big East regular season.
Louisville finished a game behind St. John’s and Rutgers, which
was eliminated by eventual national champion Oregon State in
“We knew we could make it
that far,” sophomore third baseman Chris Dominguez, a Miami
native who relished downing perennial power Miami in last year’s
Columbia Regional, where he was the Most Outstanding Player
after going 8 for 19 with four homers and 11 RBI.
Dominguez’s goal is to cut
down on his 84 strikeouts in 2007 while continuing to drive in
runs, and improve on his 2007 totals – a .262 average with 15
homers and 19 doubles with 55 RBI.
In addition to Dominguez,
the Cardinals return senior right-handed pitcher Zack Pitts
(pictured right), who
was the Big East pitcher of the year and was drafted in the 30th
round by the Washington Nationals.
“Their character, they are
all-Americans both on and off the field,” Louisville coach Dan
McDonnell said of his two stars’ best attributes. “They work
extremely hard and are very consistent in their day-to-day
routine, setting the tone for the team to fall in behind.”
Pitts and Dominguez echoed
their coach’s concern with setting a good example through hard
“I think my best attribute
is a positive attitude, I don’t think there’s too many people
who could say I don’t work hard,” said Pitts, who went 10-3 with
a 2.52 ERA a year ago.
Adding to a powerful 1-2
punch on the mound for the Cardinals is sophomore lefty Justin
Marks, who went 9-2 a season ago with a 2.67 ERA.
Louisville also will
benefit from the veteran leadership of senior catcher Derrick
Alfonso, who is a team captain along with Pitts.
“He is a proven, quality
Division I catcher,” McDonnell said. “He is one of the better,
if not the best, defensive catchers in the country.”
The third captain is
fifth-year senior B.J. Rosenberg, a right-handed pitcher who
missed last season with an injury. Pitts and Dominguez agreed
that he was a good candidate to have a surprise year after
throwing very well in the fall.
While the Cardinals had
the experience of a lifetime a year ago, getting out alive in
the Big East won’t be easy. In fact, St. John’s received the nod
in the preseason coaches’ poll with seven votes to five for
Louisville, attesting to the newfound strength of the
“We wouldn’t have been
able to get to Omaha without the preparation of the Big East,”
The Red Storm pitching
staff will be led by junior left-hander Scott Barnes, who was
7-2 with a 2.93 ERA during the 2007 campaign. The offense will
be led by senior Gil Zayas and outfielder Brian Kemp. Zayas
earned First-Team All-Big East honors in 2007 when he led the
team with a .353 average and 21 doubles. Kemp hit .384 a year
ago and was selected to the preseason All-Big East team by the
The Big East does have one
southern outpost – the University of South Florida in Tampa,
Fla. The coaches picked USF to finish third. The Bulls are young
and talented – they return only 11 players from a team that
finished fifth in the conference with a 13-14 record a year ago.
“We have a lot more arms
this year,” said Prado, the former Louisville skipper who will
be beginning his second year as the head man in Tampa. Last year
was “better than what I thought we would do,” but this year, he
expects his team to make the NCAA tournament field. “That should
be the goal every year at USF; we should be a top 25 team.”
The pitching staff
welcomes back ace Daniel Thomas. Last year the junior
red-shirted after an early-season injury, but Prado said he was
clearly the staff ace before the injury. Closing games will be
sophomore Shawn Sanford, who saved 11 games last season. Prado
will be looking for veteran second baseman Dexter Butler and
University of Florida transfer Ryan Lockwood, an athletic center
fielder, to anchor the defense. Butler hit .324 a year ago and
was selected to the All-Big East preseason team.
“It all comes down to
pitching, and if we make plays on defense,” Prado said on the
Bulls’ chances of unseating one of the two top teams. “If we do
those things, we'll compete with them.”
Other teams to watch in
the conference include Rutgers, which finished fourth in the
preseason poll and Connecticut, which nearly earned the
conference a fourth NCAA tournament bid by upsetting Rutgers in
last season’s conference tournament.