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C-USA's five NCAA bids
include Cards' first ever

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Louisville's best-ever baseball season reached new heights Monday. The Cardinals, an at-large entry from Conference USA, were chosen to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

Louisville, which won a school record 39 games, will play Georgia on Friday in the first round of a four-team double elimination tournament in Atlanta. Georgia Tech and Coastal Carolina fill out the regional.

The winner advances to one of eight super regionals. Winners of the super regionals move on to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

In addition to the Cardinals, C-USA placed four other teams in the championship playoffs — league tournament champion and automatic bid winner East Carolina, regular season kingpin Houston, Tulane and South Florida.

Louisville's players gathered in their locker room to watch the selections and erupted when their school's name flashed on the screen.

"The guys really played well all year and they deserve to be in the tournament," said Louisville coach Lelo Prado.

The Cardinals, second-place finishers in Conference USA during the regular season, received an at-large berth into the field of 64.

Louisville joins Central Connecticut State, Elon, New Mexico State and San Diego as teams making first tournament appearances.

Prado, who was named Conference USA coach of the year, said his team's balance was a key that enabled the Cardinals to reach postseason.

"We didn't have one hero," he said. "When the hitters didn't hit, the pitchers picked them up. When the pitchers didn't come through, the hitters hit."

The Cardinals' leading hitter is sophomore outfielder Mark Jurich, who batted .366 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs. Jurich, the son of Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich, was a first team all-conference player.

First baseman Morgan Bojorquez, who had 14 home runs and 60 RBIs, was a second-team all-conference selection, along with designated hitter Ken Tirpack and freshman pitcher Zach Jackson. Jackson had a 10-2 record, which tied a school record for wins in a season.

Louisville and Georgia both are coming off disappointing performances in their conference tournaments.

The Cardinals (39-16) lost to South Florida and TCU in the conference tournament. Georgia (30-27) lost 10 of its last 12, including seven straight. The Bulldogs were defeated by Florida and Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The Bulldogs are led by junior outfielder Chaz Lytle, who hit .392 and stole 30 bases in becoming a first team All-SEC selection.

Georgia reached the College World Series last season and won the national championship in 1990.

Prado said he didn't know yet who would be his starting pitcher against the Bulldogs.

Prado, who is in his seventh season at Louisville, said he didn't think his team's lack of postseason experience would be a factor.

"We've just got to go out and make plays," he said. "We've got to make this first step someday. We'll just keep playing hard. If we play hard, we will compete with a lot of these guys."

Prado, who will lead the USA Baseball National Team this summer, said the postseason appearance would build momentum for the program.

"We just laid the foundation," Prado said. "Now every kid who comes into the program knows there's expectations to get to the regional tournament. But we won't be satisfied until we get to Omaha. This is just one step towards what we want to accomplish."

Copyright 2002 Associated Press.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

02/23/2007 10:44 AM


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