LOUISVILLE — Louisville’s Drew Ellis picked a heckuva time to break out of his slump. The junior third baseman knocked a three-run homer to lead Louisville to a 5-2 win over arch-rival Kentucky Friday in front of a raucous record 6,235 fans at Jim Patterson Stadium.
“What a great way to kickoff the Super Regionals,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “We put a rivalry up front on ESPN. If you can’t get into college baseball after a rivalry game like this in the Super Regional, then you might need to check your pulse.”
Entering Friday’s Game 1 of the Louisville Super Regional, Ellis was just 2 of 21 in the post-season. Then he crushed an attempted breaking ball over the left field fence to push Louisville’s 2-0 lead to 5-0, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“His last 30 at-bats he was hitting .080 – he’s hitting under 100, but give him credit, when his team needed him the most he came up big,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “He got out ahead of a breaking ball and got a good swing on it. He came up big when his team needed him.”
Ellis acknowledged it was good to break out with that big hit. Friday’s dinger was his 18th homer of the season, a team high.
“He’s right, I was struggling, but I trust my ability,” Ellis said. “I was trying to do a little too much at times during the Regional… to get that swing off and get the barrel on the ball was a really good feeling.”
Louisville starter Kade McClure (8-3) pitched 5.1 innings, giving up just three hits with one walk and six strikeouts. Mingione said McClure was at his best Friday.
“I was just trying to put the ball in the zone and trust my defense,” McClure said. “We have the best outfield in the nation, the best infield in the nation and a brick wall behind home plate so my job was to pump the zone.”
“I thought he worked the ball to the plate really well and that made it tough,” Kentucky catcher Kole Cottam said.
“Kade was in a really good flow today,” McDonnell said. “We challenged him to get us off on the right foot this weekend. We wanted him to set the tone for us. … and he did that.”
Louisville took an early lead when Logan Taylor lead off the first inning with a single and was knocked home with a one-out single to right field by Devin Mann. With runners on second and third and one out, Kentucky got called for catcher’s interference on a force out at first.
The Cardinals had the option of accepting the penalty and loading the bases with one out or not accepting the penalty and scoring a run. They chose the run, but that put a runner at third with two outs. Devin Hairston struck out to end the inning with Louisville ahead 2-0.
Then Ellis hit his three-run bomb in the fifth inning. As Ellis rounded third, Cottam screamed something at him which ignited a shouting match between the teams and prompted the umpires to step in between.
Kentucky’s typically stout offense couldn’t find its footing against McClure or reliever Adam Wolf, but the Wildcats made things interesting in the ninth vs. closer Lincoln Henzman.
The inning started with an Evan White homer down the right field line. A pair of groundouts put Louisville one out away from a win, but that out was elusive. Riley Mahan singled to second base then Cottam walked. Tyler Marshall singled up the middle to score Mahan, leaving runners on the corners for T.J. Collett.
“We were being shut out into the ninth inning and then our bats did well against their closer,” Mingione said.
With the tying run at the plate, Henzman struck out Collett to end the game.
Zach Thompson (8-3) took the loss for Kentucky, throwing 4.0 innings, giving up three hits and a pair of runs with six strikeouts. Tyler Marshall and White were each 2 for 4 for the Wildcats.
GAME NOTES —
- Both Louisville and Kentucky saved their aces for either Saturday or Sunday. Louisville’s Brendan McKay, the three-time All-American and ACC Player of the Year, is expected to pitch Saturday against Kentucky’s 6-foot-11 stud Sean Hjelle.
- Louisville and Kentucky split two mid-week matchups earlier this season with Louisville winning 5-3 at home on April 4 and Kentucky winning 11-7 at home on April 18.