Louisville baseball returning to Omaha, expecting more this time around

Nick-SolakNick Solak delivered the big blow, a two-run home run, in the fifth inning to give UofL a lead it would never relinquish while punching its ticket to another College World Series.

Back to the College World Series again, second year in a row, third time in seven years, the University of Louisville baseball team exceeding expectations year after year.

Something different this time around, however, because these coaches and players will not be satisfied with just getting there again.

“The veteran players were disappointed in themselves last year (when they lost the first two games),” said Coach Dan McDonnell. “Our ultimate objective is to win a national championship. These players expect to compete day in and day out. To achieve greatness, you have to shoot for it.

Celebrating with the record crowd of 6,007 fans at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Celebrating with the record crowd of 6,007 fans at Jim Patterson Stadium.

“You gotta have high goals, you gotta dream big. I let the kids set the goals and we just try to live up to them.”

Bergen appeared to be in control going into the fifth inning, his team owning a 4-2 lead. But the Cardinals were figuring him out, Zach Lucas leading off with a double to left field and score on Cole Sturgeon’s first hit, a sharply hit ball to left.

The dog pile was restrained with higher goals in mind.
The dog pile was restrained with higher goals in mind.

Then would come the hit Nick Solak will never forget, sending a towering fly ball high over the left field fence, scoring Sturgeon ahead of him and putting Louisville on top for the first time, 5-2. It was only the UofL freshman’s second home run in his college career.

Anthony Kidston, despite giving up seven hits and walking two batters, would somehow find ways to get out of trouble, wrapping up his ninth win of the season without a loss. He still hasn’t lost a game since his junior year in high school. His sixth inning single would push two runners across the plate, providing some much-needed insurance at the time.

Sturgeon earned his second straight game jersey from McDonnell, with three hits and three runs batted in, plus an inning and a third on the mound. “He just keeps coming through when we need him,” said McDonnell.

Jeff Gardner comes through with a run-scoring single in the third inning.
Jeff Gardner comes through with a run-scoring single in the third inning.

And what about freshman reliever Zach Burdi, coming into the game having thrown for only 10 innings, giving up eight hits, walking seven batters and allowing eight runs.

Asking him to pitch against Max Pentacost, a first round MLB draft pick with a 423 batting average, having a near field day against UofL pitchers this night.  Pentacost managing only a weak fly to right field.

Older brother Nick Burdi slamming the door in the bottom of the ninth, sending the Cardinals back to Omaha one more time.

Solak wakes up record crowd, powers UofL past Kennesaw in Super Regional opener

Zach Lucas, No. 11,  goes into dance mode after scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.
Zach Lucas, No. 11, goes into dance groove after scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth inning on Nick Solak’s second two-bagger.

The largest crowd in Jim Patterson Stadium history,  but also one of the quietest ever for seven-and-a-half innings, most of the 5,351 individuals sitting on the edge of their seats watching a defensive battle.

Fans packed into the 3,500 seats in the expanded grandstand, standing on the party deck, along the left and right field fences, on recently added bleachers along the berm in left field, even on the play ground. But oh so quiet for so long.crowd

So much apprehension in the University of Louisville camp about this Kennesaw State team, arriving out of the Atlanta shadows for the Super Regional, owning a 3-2 edge over the Cardinals going into the bottom of the eighth. Having no doubt Kennesaw State is for real, patiently waiting for UofL to make a move.

The Louisville fans will finally erupt again and again in the eighth inning, a sea of red, capped by a tide white towels, rippling with unbridled emotion, the Cards make their way back, getting on base, finally doing their thing.

Grant Kay singling down the left field line, stealing second, Sutton Whiting going down attempting to bunt on the third pitch, Kay advancing on a wild pitch, Adam Lucas walking, Kyle Gibson bunting to the pitcher, Kay scoring, tying the game 3-3.

Nike Solak, 5-foot-11, 163 pounds, the smallest UofL starter comes to bat. Two outs, two on base Gibson on second, Lucas at third. Now or never.  Now it is, Solak driving the ball to the wall in right center field.  Gibson scoring, Lucas hot on his heels crossing the plate, giving UofL a two-run lead.

Kirk Gibson jumps on home plate for UofL's first run, thanks to a single by Nick Solac.
Kirk Gibson jumps on home plate for UofL’s first run, thanks to a single by Nick Solak in the third inning.

The double is Solak’s second extra base hit of the game, his third hit in a milestone game for the freshman, collecting three runs batted in. “The kind of game you dream of every day,” he said afterwards. “A dream come true.”

Solak has singled in the third inning, scoring Gibson with UofL’s first run. Not quite Kyle Funkhouser’s day, not hearing his name called during the Major League Baseball draft, the big 6-foot-3 righthander giving only three hits but walking five batters, forced to work his way out of bases-loaded jams in the fourth and fifth innings. Never losing his cool, however, doing what he needed to do to survive. Kyle McGrath, who relieved him in the eighth, would get the win.

Nick Burdi would put the clamps on the Kennesaw State hitters in the ninth, allowing one hit, but striking out two to notch his 17th save of the season.

Expect the place to be packed again Saturday at 7 p.m. with a crowd that has tasted victory, hungry and boisterous. clamoring for a return to Omaha.

Reserved seats sold out for Louisville Super Regional, general admission available

ticket-lineUniversity of Louisville baseball fans got an early start on purchasing tickets for the NCAA Super Regional in Louisville, lining up at the Jim Patterson Stadium ticket windows following the 12:25 a.m. conclusion of the UofL-UK game Monday morning.

All reserved seats, priced at $45 each for the entire session, had been sold out by 10:30 Tuesday morning. All-session tickets priced at $25 for general admission and outfield berm seating and $15 for college students are still available. The reserved seating situation could change if Kennesaw State doesn’t sell its allocation but that’s highly unlikely.

Times for the best two-out-of-three series between Louisville and Kennesaw State are 6:30 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. on Saturday, and 6 p.m. on Sunday, if necessary.