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.
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.
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.