Binelas gets a grizzly hug, UofL baseball another Super Regional

Trey Leonard is among the first players to congratulate Chris Binelas following that bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth inning. The ball eluding the second baseman, giving the University of Louisville baseball team a 4-3 win over Illinois State.

Alex Binelas comes through the base-loaded winning single in the bottom of the ninth (Photos by Charlie Springer)

Leonard, replacing Lucas Dunn in centerfield in the eighth inning, misjudging a fly ball in the top of the ninth. Two outs at the time, UofL ahead by two runs, needing one out. Leonard’s error will open the gate for Illinois State, tying the score on the next play. 

Visions of an extended extra inning games looming for the crowd of 2,878 at Jim Patterson Stadium. The game had moved along at such a nice pace, lasting only 2:48 of playing time. No extra innings today, thank you.

Leonard, in a quick reversal of fortunes, reaching base on a fielder’s choice, making it to third after Justin Lavey is forced out at home plate. He is the player who scores the winning run.

The UofL sophomore quickly chasing down Binelas, smothering him with an embrace that could only best be described as a grizzly bear hug. Leonard forever grateful, no words needed.

The win was UofL’s 47th win of the season, against 16 losses, sending the Cardinals to a Super Regional for the eighth time in the program’s history and sixth in the last seven years.

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Left fielder Jake Snider is at his best when when it counts the most — in NCAA post-season play. Snider is 3-for-4 at the plate, including two doubles, and was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player. 

UofL has seven other players named to the All-Louisville Regional Team: Zeke Pinkham, Justin Lavey, Tyler Fitzgerald, Alex Binelas, Drew Campbell, Danny Oriente and Luke Smith.

A new day for Luke Smith, and UofL is in Regional finale

Luke Smith returned from near obscurity in a must-win game against Illinois State to lead the Cardinals to the Regional Championship game (Photos by Jared Anderson).

It’s a new day for Luke Smith. Waking up Monday morning “feeling brand new, ’cause the dreams he has been dreaming has finally came true.” He keeps going and going on the mound and when the game is over, Louisville has emerged with an 11-2 win over Illinois State in a must-win game.

No doubt about who the man was on the mound in the second game NCAA Regional game on Sunday. None other Luke Smith, taking names, taking charge (Photos by Jared Anderson).

Smith was the last pitcher anyone could have expected going eight and a third innings in what could have been the final game for the University of Louisville baseball team.  Submerged in a hitting slump, the end is painfully near.

Needing someone to lift them up, to cut through the doldrums. A 9-7 win over Indiana in the first game Sunday didn’t hurt, with a crazy ending that got Mike McAvene suspended for four days. A wild and crazy day, two memorable games, setting the stage for a classic finish.

Probably the least imposing person on the roster, Luke Smith had but disappeared from the rotation until a few weeks ago. Came out of hiding in the 11th inning against Indiana on May 15th. Showed some different stuff that night. Handcuffed the Hoosiers, one hit in two innings, big win for him and UofL. His fifth win against no losses.

That brief showing had to have made quite an impression on Coach Dan McDonnell. Trusting him with the immediate future of Louisville baseball. Smith in and out of trouble early against Illinois State, looking lost at times.

Especially in the bottom of the fourth, with two Illinois State runners on first and third. Eyes shifting toward bull pen. Not to worry. Smith is up to the challenge, forcing a fly out to right field, and striking out the final two batters.

The Louisville batters, perhaps desperate with their backs against the wall, more than likely inspired by Luke Smith, would break out en masse in the eighth inning. Posting six more runs, putting the game out of reach. A dream game for Luke Smith, and the 46th win of the season. 

Say goodbye to the lethargy.

Former UofL AD associate throws in the towel

Life in the University of Louisville athletic department is good these days, challenging and rewarding. Not so at some schools.

Gary Friedman, a former senior associate athletic director at UofL, resigned suddenly Monday from his position as Athletic Director at Illinois State University. He was in the second year of a five-year contract.Friedman_Gary_ILS

Friedman earned the post in May 2011, promising to be “very aggressive and cutting edge.” His administration had begun a $25 million expansion of the school’s 50-year-old football stadium.

Oddly, his resignation coincided with the retirement of Al Bowman as Illinois State President. One of Bowman’s final acts was to appoint Larry Lyons as acting athletic director. A 26-year employee of ISU, Lyons was interim AD when Friedman was hired.

Friedman provided little explanation for his decision in a news release, saying only that “it simply was not the right fit.” He will be paid a year’s salary, plus expenses.


Showing up not always half the battle

The University of Louisville was due an easy win with all the positive things that had gone UofL’s way during the week.

The school getting invited to the ACC, the football team earning a BCS berth. Difficult challenges, major hurdles to overcome. Fans maybe saving their emotions for showdowns in soccer and women’s basketball.

Rick Pitino had warned anyone who would listen that Illinois State is a dangerous basketball team. But his team isn’t listening, probably writing it off as coach speak, the pontificator exaggerating again. His players showing up flat, playing uninspired basketball, until their backs are against the wall against a very good team.

UofL would eke out a 69-66 win, the game ending on a play leaving some puzzled looks from the ISU coaching staff. You know, the old three-point shooter jumping into the defender ploy. This set of officials wasn’t falling for it, fortunately.

Russ Smith, with Pitino echoing in his ears all game long, turning the ball over five times, but partially redeeming himself with 11 of 14 at the free throw line and a team-leading 24 points.

Peyton Siva, getting into foul trouble early, contributing eight of his 20 points, including two three-pointers, in the final eight minutes.

Chane Behanan becoming more active, seven of eight field goals and nine rebounds.

Gorgui Dieng looking on, wrist wrapped in a cast, has said things that come easy aren’t worth much. So maybe it was a good win.