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.
“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.
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.”
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.”