Louisville has unfinished business on fourth trip to Omaha

Brendan McKay picks up his 10th win of the season, and Louisville is in the College World Series for the fourth time in Dan McDonnell’s 11 seasons (Charlie Springer photo).

Brendan McKay was having a tough time controlling his emotions, tearing up when he left the mound of the deciding game in the Super Regional. Wiping his eyes with his gloved hand, knowing it was his last home game.

The University of Louisville left hander had divvied up eight hits to a powerful Kentucky offense until being relieved in the seventh inning. UK runners on first and second, time to go, time to hand the ball off to reliever Sam Bordner.

“Too many emotions to think of, really,” McKay said. “Just about the whole career and just everything in that moment, you know, the last time you’re ever going to pitch on that mound again … You’ve been to a lot of great places and a lot of dark places on that field, and it was just a great feeling to have.” 

None of McKay’s 31 career victories at UofL any sweeter than UofL’s 6-2 win over UK Saturday. The UofL community, distracted by off the field issues, needed a major boost. They got it before a record crowd of 6,237 fans at Jim Patterson Stadium.

Sam Bordner keeps the Wildcats at bay.

“The reason Brendan is arguably the best player to play college baseball is how much his teammates love him,” said UofL Coach Dan McDonnell. “This group’s no problem taking a backseat to him or sharing all the success with him. They know how valuable he’s been to this program, and they’re appreciative that they got to play with this guy.”

McKay would get a big helping hand from Bordner, a 6-foot-6 right-handed sophomore, walking a batter before shutting UK down. He would walk two batters in the ninth but he held the Kitties hitless. Nerves of steel. No doubt who will be UofL’s closer next season.

Drew Ellis back in the groove, three home runs in two games.

After a home run on Friday, Drew Ellis was eager to reaffirm that his hitting slump is in the past. He would, in fact, provide an early omen in this game, the first of his two home runs sailing over the College World Series billboard in left center. A 390-foot blast that one in the second inning. His second of the day, a 305-foot poke clearing the left field bleachers. His 19th and 20th home runs of the season.

Other players shaking off the hitting slumps Devin Hairston and Colby Fitch, each of them collecting three hits off the UK pitching staff. More good news for a UofL baseball team headed to the College World Series for the fourth time in McDonnell’s 11 seasons.

And how about Logan Taylor? Reaching base safely in four of his six at-bats and scoring two runs. He also made an incredible catch crashing into the wall in the ninth inning to help quell UK’s last-ditch rally.

“There’s no way I wasn’t catching that ball,” Taylor said. “The last two years, the games got away from us late in the supers. I just saw it hit and I knew it had to be me.”

Dan McDonnell: More work to do in Omaha.

McDonnell praised UK after the game, describing the Wildcats as one of the better teams UofL played during the season. “I’ve been here 11 years and I can understand the rivalry and the passion the fans have for it. They had a phenomenal team and the future is bright for them.”

No denying, however, that the sweep of arch-rival Kentucky made the win even more meaningful for Louisville, which has won eight of the last nine games against UK. The Cardinals never trailed during the Super Regional.

During the post-game huddle in center field, McDonnell congratulated his players, thanking them for their effort, encouraging them to be gracious in winning. “We’re far from done,” he reminded them. “We will have some important games ahead of us. We are not done just yet.”



Record 6,235 see Louisville advance in Super Regional

Kade McClure looking like his old self, holding Kentucky to only four hits. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)

The scary thing about playing the Kentucky baseball team is that five UK players are hitting .326 and better. The leadoff batter Tristan Pompey at 364, followed by Evan White at 370 and Zach Reks at 354.

Intimidating on paper and in person. One wonders how have they could have lost 22 games.

If the University of Louisville pitcher gets off to a shaky start, the Cardinals would face an uphill battle. Kade McClude, for example, who has more than his share of struggles the past couple of weeks, giving up 17 runs in four games.

Fortunately for UofL, the Kade McClure on the mound Friday closely resembled the Kade McClure who had a 12-0 record and was an All-American last season. Playing with a newfound confidence, he would allow the Wildcats only four hits but no runs.

Setting UofL up for a 5-2 win before a record crowd of 6,235 in the first game of the Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium. Improving his record to 8-3 while Louisville was tying its all-time high of 51 wins, against 10 losses.

Reassuring that Drew Ellis would finally shake off the doldrums, finally collecting his 18th home run, finally shaking the post-season slump. He would slap a 3-2 pitch at least 430 feet in the fifth inning, clearing the left field bleachers, driving in three huge runs.

Leadoff hitter Logan Taylor, who seems to depend more on bases on balls and being hit to reach base, getting UofL off to a good start with a two-bagger in the first inning.  Stealing second and scoring on a single by Devin Mann, getting Louisville off on the right foot.

Taylor would also collect a walk in the fifth inning and score on that Drew Ellis blast.

Louisville managing only four hits in the win, needing to pick up the pace on Saturday, needing to provide some hitting support for Brendan McKay in what will be his last home game on the mound at UofL.

Attendance of 6,235 for the first game of the Super Regional is an all-time record.

Suddenly Kentucky followers are diehard baseball fans

The already caustic rivalry between the universities of Louisville and Kentucky will become more vitriolic after this week’s NCAA Super Regional baseball competition. One season ending, another pursuing glory.

Bitter, as in bitter, end for the loser. 

UK is a newcomer to Super Regional competition, having never won a Regional tournament in the program’s 100-year history. The Lexington school is a surprise, having compiled a 43-21 record overall and a 19-11 mark in the Southeastern Conference in Coach Nick Mingione’s first season.

Whether that winds up being the proverbial flash in the pan or long-term success remains to be seen. But suddenly the basketball-centric UK followers consider themselves diehard baseball fans.

UofL, meanwhile, will be participating in its fifth consecutive Super Regional and its seventh during Coach Dan McDonnell’s 11th season. The Cardinals also have won six of the last seven games against the Wildcats over the last four seasons. UofL is 50-10 this season.

Lots of complaints from UK fans after it was announced the Super Regional was a sellout less than 24 hours after UofL won the Regional against Xavier.  Some Kentucky fans arguing that it was unfair for Louisville to sell out the event before they had qualified. Others suggesting that the games should be moved to Louisville Slugger Field.

Sorry, Cat fans, neither argument is valid. UofL earned the right to host the Super Regional during the regular season. A national seed is supposed to mean something. That includes the home field advantage and everything that goes along with playing at Jim Patterson Stadium. 

Given the success of the UofL baseball program over the past decade, long-time observers of the rivalry are not surprised that Kentucky has been investing heavily in baseball. The Wildcats will begin play in a new $49 million 2,500-seat stadium, starting the 2018 season.

Welcome to the world of college baseball, Wildcat fans. We were wondering how long it would take for them to stop pretending they hadn’t noticed UofL’s success in baseball.

Expect some fireworks this week, on and off the field.

One more time: Louisville baseball back to Super Regionals

Louisville reliever Lincoln Henzman quickly cooled down the Xavier bats after entering the game in the seventh inning.  (Photo by GARRY JONES)

The final out:

The Cards thanking their fans:

This game seemed to be won and lost more times than most University of Louisville baseball fans could count, so many potential heroes, so many potential goats, so many ups and downs.

Never give up, never give in, always competing. Don’t play the score, play the game is what UofL Coach Dan McDonnell always says. No lead was safe, the lead changing hands so often.

That was until reliever Lincoln Henzman got the call prematurely to put out the Xavier fire in the seventh inning. Stopping the bleeding, ending the drama, after three runs had been scored, pitching two-and-two-thirds innings of flawless baseball.

Josh Stowers (25) is greeted at the plate by happy teammates after three-run home run against Xavier (Photo by GARRY JONES).

Sending UofL to the Super Regional for the seventh Super Regional in 11 years with a dramatic come-from-behind-three-times 8-7 win over a determined Xavier team. The win witnessed by 4,012 fans at Jim Patterson Stadium.

The firepower and the winning runs coming largely coming from the bottom half of the Cardinals lineup. 

Josh Stowers putting Louisville back in the lead in the bottom of the seventh with a one-out RBI double hit towards the same spot as earlier three-run home run. Collin Lyman slid home to tie the score, and Stowers would score on a single by Logan Taylor.

Three wins in a row, three hard-fought ones. No one said it was going to be easy, nothing really good ever is. The Louisville Cardinals will be back at Jim Patterson Stadium next weekend, hopefully en route to Omaha.

Louisville clobbers Oklahoma 11-1 in pitchers’ duel

Quite possibly the game of his college career for Logan Taylor, with a two-run hit that ignited a seven-run eighth inning for Louisville (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The final score was 11-1 in favor of the University of Louisville over Oklahoma but it really was one of the better pitching duels of the 2017 college baseball season.

Brendan McKay holding Oklahoma at bay until Louisville could get the bats going. He chalked up his 376th strike out, stying Kyle Funkhauser for all-time honors at UofL (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Louisville managing only two hits through the first seven innings off of Oklahoma’s Jake Irvin while Brendan McKay was holding the Sooners to three of them in a 1-1 game after seven. McKay wound up with seven strike outs for the game, bringing his career total to 376 at UofL.

Irvin finally started to look human in the eighth, giving up a walk to Devin Hairston and a single to Colin Lyman. Irvin showing signs of weakness, time for him to go, lifted for reliever Connor Berry.

The guy Logan Taylor wanted to see, propelling a line shot to centerfield, sending Lyman and Josh Stowers home, giving UofL a two-run lead. The Cardinals would collect three more hits, including a two-run triple by Colby Fitch, and four more runs, emerging with a 7-1 lead from the inning.

“It was definitely huge to get some runs to go ahead finally; it was the first lead of the game. But then our guys really poured it on after that,” said Taylor.

The win was the 49th of the season against 10 losses, putting UofL in the driver’s seat. The Cardinals need to win only one game to capture the Regional, facing the winner of Sunday afternoon’s Oklahoma-Xavier game on Sunday at 7 p.m.