(photo by Howie Lindsey)
LOUISVILLE — After two years of heartbreaking losses in Super Regionals, the Louisville Cardinals are heading back to Omaha for the College World Series. No. 7 national seed Louisville clinched a spot in Omaha with a 6-2 win over Kentucky Saturday afternoon.
“It is very refreshing to be able to go back to Omaha,” Louisville senior Logan Taylor said. “It makes the, all the work you do and all the frustration you had, we felt the last two years. To finally get over that hump, yes, but like now that we are here like we still have a mission to do. I mean that’s, we have been cut off at Supers and to finally now be past that, now we can keep going forward.”
The Cardinals (52-10) got a pair of solo homers by Drew Ellis and strong pitching performance from ace lefty Brendan McKay who collected nine strikeouts and allowed two runs in 6.2 innings without a walk.
“I thought he had really good stuff, He had really good command of the strike zone,” Kentucky’s Evan White said. “No matter what happened he was always calm. … I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
Kentucky (43-23) threw its ace, 6-foot-11 sophomore righty Sean Hjelle, but Hjelle took a loss, giving up four runs, all earned, in 5.1 innings. He gave up seven hits, had two strikeouts and two walks.
“Everything in life you have to earn. Congratulations to Louisville for earning that trip to Omaha for the College World Series,” UK coach Nick Mingione said. “They beat a really great group of young men.”
Mingione was coaching in his first Super Regional. Louisville has been to five straight Super Regionals, making the College World Series in 2013 and 2014.
The Cardinals suffered heartbreak in the 2015 Super Regionals when a game-winning homer was called fair and it could have been foul, sending Cal State Fullerton to Omaha.
Then it was heartbreak again in 2016 when a seldom-used pinch-hitter named Sam Cohen hit a Grand Slam off Louisville’s 1st Round MLB Draft Pick closer Nick Burdi to send UCSB to Omaha.
The 2017 team entered the season with lower expectations having lost three first-round picks and it winningest all-time pitcher, Kyle Funkhouser. But the Cardinals are heading back to Omaha for the fourth time in school history, having swept the Regional and now the Super Regional.
That heartbreak ended Saturday for the Cardinals as they celebrated at midfield, having beat their rivals and earned another trip to Omaha.
“We could have made a lot of excuses—all the players we lost to the draft, maybe it’s just not so—I am so happy obviously about what happened—but the joy I have for this group,” McDonnell said. “The four seniors that go to Omaha as freshmen—Sparger, Summers, Lyman, and Taylor. But that’s it. The juniors—the legacy that they are going to leave with this program—McKay, Hairston, Fitch, Ellis, McClure, I know I am going to leave someone out, I’m sorry. But I’m sitting here thinking, I want those guys to go to Omaha— something fierce, something fierce!”
Louisville got on the board first when Ellis smacked a homer to left-center just over Louisville’s three College World Series banners. The Cardinals added a run in the fifth when Logan Taylor tagged up from third on a Devin Mann pop fly to right center.
Down 2-0, Kentucky struck back in the bottom of the fifth when Riley Mahan tagged up from third on a Marcus Carson pop-up just outside the foul line in left field.
The Cardinals pushed the lead to 3-1 with a leadoff homer by Ellis in the top of the 6th inning then added another run on a RBI triple by Josh Stowers down the third base line, scoring Devin Hairston from third.
Down 4-1, Kentucky got a run back in the seventh inning when Tristan Pompey singled to center field with runners on the corners, scoring Troy Squires from third.
Louisville added to its 4-2 with a pair of runs in the eighth. Tyler Fitzgerald scored from second on a stand-up double off the left-center wall by Logan Taylor, and Taylor scored on a bloop-single by Colby Fitch.
In addition to Ellis’ two homers, the Cardinals also got a 2-for-4 performance from Logan Taylor, 3-for-5 from Colby Fitch and 3-for-4 from Devin Hairston. The Cardinals also got 2.1 great innings from Sam Bordner. He had three strikeouts and two walks vs. the 10 batters he faced.
For Kentucky, Evan White was 2-for-4. Hjelle gave up four runs on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts in 5.1 innings. The Wildcats also used four other pitchers with closer Logan Salow going the furthest, 2.1 innings of two-hit baseball with three walks and a strikeout.
- The Cardinals won Game 1 5-2 after scoring two runs in the first inning and getting a three-run homer from junior Drew Ellis in the fifth inning. In the ninth inning, Louisville closer Lincoln Henzman gave up a home run to Kentucky’s Evan White and another run, but the Cardinals closed out the 5-2 win with a strikeout that stranded two Kentucky runners on base.
- Louisville has been to Omaha three times in the last five seasons, 2013, 2014 and now 2017.
- Yesterday’s attendance record of 6,235 was broken today: 6,237. Neither total includes fans who were standing on RVs, the overpass, the cabooses or Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium outside the fences of the ballpark.