The University of Louisville’s 2nd trip in school history to Omaha ended the same way as the 1st trip to the College World Series. With double elimination in two games. This time the Cards were snake bit with a myriad of uncharacteristic plays in the field in the 3rd & 4th innings that collectively allowed 10 runs against the #3 Oregon State Beavers.
Louisville ACE and Big East Pitcher of the Year Jeff Thompson started strong, though he wasn’t his best Monday for the Cards. Still Thompson’s effort should have been good enough to avert major damage. In the 3rd Orgeon State’s Max Gordon stuck his elbow out and granted himself first base, and Tyler Smith sent a rocket ship down the left field line for a double which scored Gordon. Smith’s double was misplayed by Cardinal left-fielder CoCo Johnson, allowing Gordon to score. A SAC bunt turned single by Andy Peterson was well placed and instead of having a runner on 3rd with ONE OUT, the Cards found themselves with runners on the corners and none gone. Throw in a misplayed foul ball by catcher Kyle Gibson to miss another chance for an out against Beaver slugger Michael Conforto, followed by a walk of Conforto to load the bases and it’s actually surprising that the Cards gave up just 3 runs in the 3rd. But it didn’t stop there…….the Cards actually could have gotten out with less damage if not for an ill-advised double play try by Zach Lucas’ who backhanded the ball past shortstop Sutton Whiting allowing a bases loaded groundout with just one run scoring, to turn into a no out two-run score.
The 4th inning, however, was the real stinker. With no other way to describe the 7-run 4th inning the Cards actually allowed 7 runs WITH TWO OUTS!!!! However, an errant umpire call extended the inning when the Cards could have gotten out of the inning allowing zero runs. Dylan Davis singled to Jeff Thompson, whose throw to Wasserman clearly beat the runner on replay, extending the inning and scoring two runs in the process while the Cards gasped at the abhorrent call. Still, rather than collecting themselves following the human error element of baseball the Cards had a mental implosion and didn’t look like the Cards we had seen all season.
With Cody Ege replacing Thompson, Ege walked his 1st batter, loading the bases again. On a routine groundball to shortstop Sutton Whiting, Whiting sailed the ball over 6’6″ Zak Wasserman scoring an additional two runs. After Cody Ege hit the next batter, he was replaced by Kyle Funkhouser. Funkhouser did his part to contribute to this epic inning for the Beavers by walking the 1st batter with the bases loaded, scoring another. Mercifully the inning ended with a flyout to center, but not before Max Gordon could single for 2 RBIs growing the 4th inning total to 7 innings.
Above, that account of the events of the 3rd & 4th inning………that’s not Cardinal Baseball. That’s not what Dan McDonnell teaches, that’s not what this team has been about all season. The Cardinal Baseball team I saw all year BATTLED. They were fundamentally sound, they played precise baseball. Cardinal baseball was Nick Ratajczak going to the plate in the 8th despite an injury, Cardinal baseball is Matt Helms REFUSING to be the final out of the season. It is unfortunate that this team ended their season this way……..but there are lessons to be learned.
First, this Louisville team and program took a MAJOR step forward in 2013. Last year, while losing to Arizona the Wildcats might as well have been the New York Yankees. It didn’t seem like the Cards had what it took to crack the eventual National Champions. However, in 2013 Louisville Baseball took on and BEAT Vanderbilt on their home field in sweeping fashion to earn their trip to Omaha. That Vanderbilt team was #2 in the country and considered by many to be the best team in College Baseball. Not to mention the game against Oregon State, despite the score, was winnable if the Cards had their usual fielding performance (Beavers scored 7 runs after what should have been 3rd out…..Cards lost by 7).
Second, playoff baseball is regular baseball. Big East Tournament aside the Cards looked good in the NCAA Tournament. When UofL played loose good things happened, the Cards didn’t face elimination in the tournament until Monday running through the Regional & Super Regional. Coaches may use different rotations in the post-season but baseball is baseball. Just play focus on your job and don’t press.
Third, let one play be one play. Against Oregon State the Cards began playing as if one mistake was going to cost them an opportunity to win and advance. So one mistake became two, two mistakes became three and then the Cards saw 10 runs in two innings. You can’t win a baseball game with one play in the field and you can’t lose one either….especially in the 3rd & 4th innings. Trust your teammates to do their jobs and play fundamental baseball in inning #1 to inning #9.
Finally, learn from experience. Next year when the Cards go to Omaha (I feel strongly that they will have this chance again) I hope the Cards can focus more on their game, the scouting report, their job, it’s just baseball. Sure it is Omaha, but you’ve been there now. You’ve seen key pieces of the puzzle get injured, you’ve seen your team win despite your best hitter slumping, you’ve seen what can happen when you compound errors, and you know what can happen when you just play the game.
Louisville Baseball moving forward is in fantastic position. They have the right man, the right kids, great facilities, outstanding recruiting and now a little more seasoning. The program who hadn’t been to the College World Series EVER now has been twice since 2007………and it has us wanting more.