By Derek Brightwell
An almost four hour rain delay on Sunday did not dampen the Louisville Cardinals’ bats nor the crowds excitement. U of L defeated their bitter rivals, the University of Kentucky, in the NCAA Regional Championship 4-1.
The Wildcats advanced to the Championship earlier that day with an 8-6 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks, setting the stage for the third Battle of the Bluegrass this year. Kentucky had swept the regular-season series, but Louisville was able to win the most important one to advance to the Super Regional round.
Early on, the story was the long lightning delay that sent much of the crowd seeking shelter and cleared Jim Patterson Stadium for almost four hours. But once the game started, the only thing that was electric was the atmosphere.
The Cardinals struck first in the third inning when designated hitter, freshman Nick Solak, put an RBI single into right field. And for most of the game, it appeared that was going to be enough to secure the win as U of L’s left-handed freshman pitcher Josh Rogers was able to get out of every jam he found himself in. Rogers allowed but one run on four hits through six plus innings. The freshman had no walks to go along with his five strikeouts.
In the seventh inning Kentucky took out their starting pitcher, freshman Logan Salow to bring in red-shirt sophomore Sam Mahar. The first three batters he faced all came around to score before he was taken out. Mahar retired only one batter and left with the score 4-0 in Louisville’s favor.
The quick burst of offense was quickly overshadowed that inning. Third basemen Alex Chittenden tried to score on a ground ball to the shortstop. After a quick game of hotbox, he was barreling down on first basemen Thomas Bernal at home plate. Chittenden went low at Bernal’s knees and toppled him over. The dugouts cleared as both teams met at home plate with the near fight broken up by coaches and umpires.
A half inning later UK was rallying having scored their first run of the game. In what would be one of the game-defining plays, UK pinch hitter Kyle Barrett lined out to center fielder Cole Sturgeon who then delivered a bullet to catcher Kyle Gibson. Bernal ran right through Gibson who hung on to the ball for the inning and rally ending double play. Gibson immediately popped up and stared down Bernal, as did many other Cardinal infielders before Coach McDonnell ran out to usher everyone back to the dugout. As a result of the hit, Bernal was ejected.
In the ninth inning, U of L’s junior closer Nick Burdi came in to finish off Kentucky. Burdi started off rocky throwing seven straight balls before finding the strike zone. He cleaned up quick and swiftly disposed of the next three hitters to earn the save.
The rain that was present throughout the game contributed to the two throwing errors each team committed but Kentucky had multiple mental lapses and miscommunications that resulted in balls falling in between two or three players.
Even after a four-hour evacuation of the stadium the seats were still packed as people were shuffling in up through the second inning. It was hard to not feel the tension of every at-bat as the crowds on both sides of the field erupted in cheers whenever something positive happened for their respective team. Every run scored, every double play and even the two collisions got the crowd on their feet and generated chants of C-A-R-D-S and C-A-T-S.
With the victory the University of Louisville will host next weekend’s Super Regional round at Jim Patterson Stadium. The Cards will play Kennesaw State, the winner of the Tallahassee Regional Championship.
Photo by Derek Brightwell