LOUISVILLE — Michael McAvene's sentence in solitary confinement is over and, as you might imagine, he feels like celebrating after missing part of his team's NCAA Regional games over a week ago and both victories in its Super Regional championship this past weekend.
As Louisville fans are well aware, the Cardinals' ace closer was ejected in the ninth inning of their regional win over Indiana for expressing his displeasure over a called ball he felt was an obvious strike.
That earned him an automatic four-game suspension, but he is now eligible for No. 7 U of L's (49-16) appearance in the College World Series, beginning Sunday at 2 p.m. against No. 2 Vanderbilt (54-11) in TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, and there was no trace of lingering bitterness during an interview prior to practice Tuesday afternoon.
In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a college baseball player handling that type of adversity any better than the junior right-hander.
"You know, in the moment, obviously I felt a little bit different, but the rule's a rule," McAvene said. "It does say that arguing balls and strikes is an automatic ejection, so I had to own up to that situation and just be able to move forward from it. I'm glad the team was able to do what they needed to do and I'm able to get back on the field. It was just the heat-of-the-moment-type thing.
"It was frustrating the day of, but once the NCAA ruled on it I realized we weren't going to get anything changed, so I decided to accept it and keep moving forward.”
McAvene confirmed that his only words to the plate umpire were, "That's horrible," which had been reported by media members who had watched the replay that day.
"I stood there for a second and tried to keep my tongue bit, but in the heat of the moment, that's what ended up coming out," he said. "I was surprised (by the ejection). I didn't think I had said anything that warranted an ejection."
Barred from the field, McAvene watched the last two Regional wins over Illinois State and the Super Regional victories against East Carolina by himself on TV in the Cards' locker room or at home with his parents, who drove to Louisville from Camby, Indiana, near Indianapolis, to offer moral support to their son.
But wherever he started watching initially, he always made sure he saw the ninth inning from the second floor of the baseball complex above the locker room.
"I wanted to get out the door and be with my team as soon as the game was over," he said. "It's tough to be taken out of the competition like that. If you're a competitor like I am, and like everybody is on this team, you don't want to be sidelined for something like that. To be part of it again now, the guys I go to battle with every day, is something that is unmatched by anything."
Junior pitcher Reid Detmers (12-4), who is likely to get the start against Vandy, said McAvene's teammates used humor to help defuse the situation and prop him up.
"We just joked around with him, had fun with it," Detmers said. "He wasn't really that upset about it because he knew we were going to be fine without him. Having him back is good. He's a big part of our staff and he's going to do good things in Omaha."
U of L coach Dan McDonnell says he preaches to his player often about how success doesn't come easy and they have to be able to handle adversity. And he has a prime example in McAvene.
"He handled it like a champ," McDonnell said. "I mean, as his head coach, you're so proud of him. He's our highest GPA, and each year in Omaha they give an award to the highest-GPA student-athlete from each team. It's a reminder, this kid's a good kid. He's a good student. But he didn't make it about himself either. He knew his job was to just encourage and support his teammates, and he did a wonderful job and we're happy he gets a chance to play again."
COMMODORES ARE RED HOT
The CWS showdown will be a rematch of the May 7 game at Jim Patterson Stadium, won by the Commodores, 6-2, but that may not be much of a barometer because neither team used its best pitchers in the midweek Top 5 encounter (U of L was No. 3, Vandy No. 2). In fact, the Cards sent nine pitchers to the mound. The Commodores scored two runs in each of the last two innings to break a 2-2 tie and pull out the win, snapping U of L's nine-game winning streak.
It was Vandy's 12th win in a row. Coach Tim Corbin's team has won 14 of its last 15 games and is 27-2 over the last seven weeks. During that stretch, the 'Dores have won by six runs or more 13 times, eight or more eight times, and only three of the victories have been by fewer than three runs.
Vandy dropped its Super Regional opener in Nashville to Duke, 18-5, bounced back to take the second game 3-0 behind a historic no-hitter by freshman Kumar Rocker, who struck out 19, then rolled to a 13-2 win in the championship game.
Louisville's bracket in the eight-team double-elimination tournament that starts Saturday and runs through June 26 also includes No. 6 Mississippi State (51-13) and unranked Auburn (38-26). Matchups in the other bracket are No. 8 Texas Tech (44-18) vs. Michigan (46-20), an upset winner over top-seeded UCLA in the Los Angeles Super Regional, and No. 5 Arkansas (46-18) vs. Florida State (41-21), which ousted No. 13 LSU.
CARDS FOOTBALL ON ALL-ACCESS SERIES
Scott Satterfield will be under even more scrutiny than he normally would have been during his first season as Louisville's football coach because the program will be the subject of a multi-episode. all-access television program this fall, Athletics Director Vince Tyra told the school’s athletic association board of directors on Monday.
A production company that has worked with Satterfield before approached U of L about shooting the program, to run on ESPN’s new ACC Network — which is scheduled to debut on Aug. 22 — and the school approved.
“It’ll be a series, a number of things with coach Satterfield,” Tyra said. “We have some good stories to tell around our athletic department and they’re intrigued, but that’s one we offered that they want.
"It’ll be several episodes, just like you’ve seen in Hard Knocks. There have been some reports and other stories out there, but this will be more broad-based. ESPN certainly has shown an interest in coach Satterfield. ... I think he’ll do a great job with this.”
Louisville will open its season on Labor Day, Sept. 2, against Notre Dame in Cardinal Stadium at 8 p.m. on ESPN.