Not a large crowd on hand, less than 60 people if one excludes the media, welcoming the University of Louisville baseball team back to town Tuesday at the Fairgrounds. Quiet and reserved, a few holding signs, they were there as much to show their respect despite their regrets.
About 20 minutes before the bus arrived, a couple of buzzards had circled overhead as if they were expecting the arrival of dead meat. They disappeared quickly when a couple of F16 fighter jets roared less than 100 feet over the spot where the UofL bus would unload the team, reminiscent of an Orange Bowl salute to football back 2007.
The symbolism was unmistakable, even if in reverse, from soaring aspirations for another collegiate championship to a slow methodical elimination from the hunt. As big as making the College World Series was, there’s no mistaking how disappointed the UofL players were with their performance in Omaha.
Getting there, however, was an incredible accomplishment, winning a school record of 51 games along the way. The early out should provide motivation for next season.
“It was an awesome experience, an awesome atmosphere,” said catcher Kyle Gibson. “Coach said we should be proud. If there was one place to end the season, it should be in Omaha. We think we can get back there.”
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Ken Thompson was there to welcome and console his nephew Jeff, who was chased from mound after a combination of walks, hits, errors and one questionable call led to a seven-run inning for Oregon State, an 11-4 defeat, and elimination from the tournament. “You give your best, and you take the good with the bad,” he said.
The uncle said he didn’t know what Jeff was going to do next season after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers late in the third round of the Major League Baseball draft. “He’s only going to get better,” he said. “But I don’t think he’s had enough time to think about it.”
Ken’s brother, Jordan, plays basketball for Wiley Brown at Indiana University Southeast.
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Coco Johnson, a junior leftfielder, is another Cardinal with a decision to make. Does he stay another year and get better or does he join the Miami Marlins’ organization which took him in the 11th round of the MLB draft? “All I know is this the best team I’ve ever played with,” he said. “I love it here.”