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.

NCAA overlooks UofL baseball’s early exit from ACC tourney

Coach Dan McDonnell with media reps at Monday’s press conference in the Omaha Room at Jim Patterson Stadium (Photo by Ed Peak).

By Ed Peak

The University of Louisville had four days to rid itself of a flat performance in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Monday’s announcement of the Cardinals as the No. 7 national seed in the NCAA baseball tournament provided still more relief.

UofL (43-15) will play Illinois Chicago (29-21) in an opening round game Friday, 6 p.m. at Jim Patterson Stadium. Indiana (36-21) will play Illinois State (34-24) at 2 p.m.

The Cardinals must thank their lucky stars the selection committee took into account the entire season or body of work. Several factors helped the Cardinals get a national seed, including a tough non conference schedule and the fact that eight ACC teams made the field.

The Cards have non conference wins over NCAA invitees Mississippi, Indiana and Cincinnati. Duke and North Carolina State were sweeps in the ACC and two of three series wins over Miami and Florida State. A loss to Vanderbilt, the No. 2 overall in the tournament didn’t hurt their RPI.
Also helpful was Louisville’s recent success in NCAA play.

“I tried to tell them don’t get caught up in the national seed. That’s for the second round,” said coach Dan McDonnell. “You just have to focus on the first round. I think it’s one of the greatest accomplishments in college baseball to be selected to host a regional.

“I congratulated them. Now let’s play good baseball and let’s see who we’re matched up with Friday night. Anything past that your wasting energy and your wasting time. Let’s focus on what we can control and that’s who we play Friday night.”

Rosenbaum leads UofL eruption past Ohio State

The sight of Blake Tiberi greeting Danny Rosenbaum at home plate is a welcome one for University of Louisville baseball fans, occurring twice on Saturday in UofL’s 15-3 romp over Ohio State.

Fun day for Brendan McKay on the mound and at the plate.
Fun day for Brendan McKay on the mound and at the plate.

Rosenbaum had homered and homered again, driving Tiberi across the plate in the third and one more time in the fourth inning.

The Louisville senior would come that close — within about three feet of the left field fence — of doing it still again in the fifth inning.

Batting seventh in the lineup, Rosenbaum is hitting at a .289 clip.  More than a third of his 55 hits this season have been for extra bases.  He now has 10 home runs, 12 doubles and a triple.

Louisville would bat around in third inning, burning Ohio State pitchers for eight hits and eight runs, taking a 10-0 lead in the third, increasing it to 14-0 through the fifth.

Brendan McKay shaking some recent doldrums, putting his pitching and hitting dips behind him, earning his 12th win against three losses.

Brendan set the offensive tone early with a towering two-run home run over the center field fence in the first inning.  Two hits on the day, driving in three runs. On the mound, he was denying the Buckeyes any glimpse of home plate and giving up only only three hits through his five and two-third innings.

Logan Taylor, batting ninth in the lineup, had three hits, including a double, and three runs batted in. Top of the order, bottom of the order, no place to relax for opposing pitchers on Saturday.

Photos and gallery courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton:

 

Louisville drubs Michigan, off to another Super Regional

Happy days are here again.

The University of Louisville is off to its third consecutive Super Regional, totally dominating Michigan 13-4 in a game in which the Cardinals had 14 hits and seven innings of masterful pitching from Josh Rogers.

Rogers, a sophomore left-hander from New Albany, was making his second start in an NCAA Regional, a little nervous he admitted after the game. Reality struck quickly in the first inning when Carmen Benedetti clocked him for a two-run home run, jump starting Michigan with a two-run lead.

Devin Hairston earns outstanding player award in Louisville Regional. (UofL photo)
Devin Hairston earns outstanding player award in Louisville Regional. (UofL photo)

Rogers shakes it off, settles down and gives up only four hits while striking out five batters the rest of the way.

“I was nervous,” said Rogers during the post-game press conference. “If anybody says they’re not nervous before a game like this, they’re lying to you. I had some nerves going, but I got calmed down, settled in there and, after that home run, I just gave my team a chance to win.”

Nick Solak breaks the ice for UofL the next inning with  his third home run of season. He would followup the next inning sending a runner home on a sacrifice to tie the game at 2-2, and still another runner on a single in a three-run sixth inning. By then, UofL owned a 8-3 advantage.

“We were very consistent all weekend — never really panicked,” Louisville Coach Dan McDonnell said. “We handled everybody’s best punch.”

Sutton Whiting, Zach Lucas and Logan Taylor added two hits each for UofL, improving its season record to 46-16.

Coach Dan McDonnell had some special praise for Devin Hairston who was named the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player after going five-for-ten at the plate and scoring four runs over the weekend.

“He’s the epitome of a great week of practice,” McDonnell said. “He and (assistant) coach (Eric) Snider just tweaked the swing a little bit, got him right.”

McDonnell can’t wait for a few more days of practice. Tweaking, tweaking, always tweaking.

Jeff Gardner needs to starting having fun again

As he walks to the plate, Jeff Gardner looks up to the sky, thankful for another at bat. Just outside the batter’s box he raises his bat, twists it slightly and stares at the logo. He then adjusts his batting helmet with his free hand and steps up to plate.

All batters probably have their own pre-bat rituals.  One observed Gardner’s more closely lately because he appeared to be struggling during the NCAA Regional, managing only one hit in 12 at-bats. His batting average was .345 a couple of weeks ago, and has slipped to .326. A little premature to suggest he’s in a hitting slump but a little worrisome for some.Jeff-Gardner-2

Dan McDonnell, perhaps, the coach sending in a pinch hitter for Gardner rather allow him a fifth at-bat against Kentucky. He was zero for four in that game, striking out twice, once with the bases loaded in the fifth, the other with two runners on in the seventh. The coach had good reason to be concerned for Gardner, knowing his player well.

Fortunately for Louisville, several of Garner’s teammates, including Nick Solak, Corey Ray and Cole Sturgeon, have been more coming on of late, raising their batting averages to .349, .328 and .325, respectively. The pitching was impressive, as it has been all season long.

The scouting report on Gardner strongly suggests low and outside pitches. Anywhere else spells trouble. That’s where Kent State, Kansas and Kentucky pitchers were consistently placing the ball. Gardner was aiming for the fences, it seemed, on every cut. Especially on third strikes, whether they were too low or too far outside, strikes or balls.

Maybe trying too hard, putting too much on his own shoulders. A simple base hit will do with runners on base. Opposite field, center field, wherever. Doesn’t have to clear the bases every time. Focusing on making contact until he gets one of that fat pitches.

Gardner’s a senior, with a few precious games remaining in his college career. Time to loosen up, have some fun, enjoy the game, and help his teammates get to Omaha, trusting himself, his instincts and his inherent abilities.