“Third time’s a charm,” said Josh Rogers, walking to left field to join his team after a masterful six innings of shutout pitching to give University of Louisville baseball a 4-1 Regional championship win over Kentucky. “I had a lot of confidence going into the game,” he said. “I absolutely I could do it. I’m all the way back.”
What Rogers was saying was that he has finally recovered from the Tommy John’s surgery that cost him his entire senior year of baseball at New Albany High School. The UofL freshman righthander was still working his way back into shape, he explained, for about half the season.
“I’m not even the same guy who pitched those first two games,” he said. “I’m feeling strong, really comfortable out there again, and it’s feels absolutely great.”
That’s coming from a player who wears No. 13 on his back. Fearless.
Nobody could be any happier than his coach, Dan McDonnell, who has a great new pitching weapon at the just the right time as his team prepares to host an NCAA Super Regional in Louisville this week.
Five lines of 30 people deep were lined up outside the ticket window at Jim Patterson Stadium at 12:30 a.m. this morning, fans eager to get their hands on those ducats.
Through his first six innings, Rogers gave up only four hits, struck out five batters, and walked zero UK batters. Those batters included A. J. Reed, the national player of the year, who could manage only a strike out and two ground outs against Rogers.
Reed’s other memorable out would come courtesy of Kyle McGrath, who had relieved Jake Sparger in the seventh, a line drive to first base that would catch Max Kuhn to far off base, a career-ending double play for UK’s super man.
Sparger, who relieved Rogers in the seventh after hitting a batter, was having trouble getting his footing on the soggy pitcher’s mound, had a wild pitch advancing the runner and walked his only batter on four pitches. That was a little too much uncertainty for McDonnell who brought Kyle McGrath in from the bullpen. The two UK batters would reach second and third base, setting the stage for the play of the game.
UK’s Kyle Barrett, pinch hitting for JaVon Shelby, would send the ball to center field who would make the catch and then throw a laser all the way to five feet left of home plate where catcher Kyle Gibson would tag Thomas Bernal in the chest for the first of a couple of dramatic innings-ending double plays. Take it from someone who was in the direct line of that throw, it was an absolute cannon, straight out of a 3D movie.
The drama wasn’t over yet as Nick Burdi arrives in the ninth. After taking his full warmups, the umpire spots an insignia on his sleeve, forcing Burdi to the dressing room for about five minutes. He returns to mound, needing seven pitches to find the plate again, walking the first batter, advancing him to second on a wild pitch. But when he does find the plate, it’s all but over and the Cats go down 1-2-3 in order.
Giving Burdi his 16th save of the season, a very gratifying win over arch rival Kentucky, and another Super Regional in Louisville.