BOZICH: Even Russ Smith Can't Ignite Louisville Baseball - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH: Even Russ Smith Can't Ignite Louisville Baseball

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The gap between No. 12 Louisville and No. 3 Vanderbilt was considerable as the Commodores won, 10-2, Tuesday night. The gap between No. 12 Louisville and No. 3 Vanderbilt was considerable as the Commodores won, 10-2, Tuesday night.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This is how harsh it got for the University of Louisville baseball team when the Cardinals lost to Vanderbilt, 10-2, at Jim Patterson Stadium Tuesday night:

They invited U of L basketball player Russ Smith to lead the crowd in the C-A-R-D-S cheer in the bottom of the sixth inning. Smith, appearing with freshman Mangok Mathiang, agreed.

After signing autographs and posing for pictures for nearly 10 minutes, Smith moved to a spot adjacent to the Cards' dugout during the top of the sixth. He waited. And waited. And waited. Vanderbilt got one guy on base. Then another. And another.

Ten visitors batted. Four Commodores scored.

I wondered if Smith would have to leave before starting the cheer because he promised to make his NBA Draft decision by Wednesday.

It was that kind of night for coach Dan McDonnell's team. The Cards created their first three-game losing streak this season. After winning 18 of their first 20 games, Louisville is 12-8 over its last 20.

They're tucked in third place in the Big East, behind South Florida and Pittsburgh, as they await a three-game series with Georgetown this weekend. If the goal is to earn one of the 16 spots as a first-round host for the NCAA Tournament, the Cardinals need to figure out the issues that McDonnell addressed with the players during a 20-minute post-game session in the outfield after the game.

What started as a hitting slump has become a pitching slump, a fielding slump and a base-running slump -- and this one was televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network.

"Right now we're not playing great defense, we're not running the bases well," McDonnell said. "Is it because of our offensive inefficiencies the last week?"

Remember this was Vanderbilt, a program that aspires to finish every season in the College World Series. The Commodores (36-6) are ranked third in the nation and lead the East Division of the Southeastern Conference by five games. Vanderbilt has hitting and pitching to punish good teams. Nobody would be shocked if the Commodores finish this season in Omaha. Vandy has a string of players who will be taken in the MLB Draft.

But the Cardinals didn't play like a team that will be ranked 12th nationally for more than another inning. Vanderbilt put at least one runner on base in every inning – and usually more than one. Louisville made two errors in the first and another in the fourth. They had runners picked off first and doubled off first.

McDonnell used seven pitchers. He was forced to change pitchers in the fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings.

"We're ineffective on offense and that has carried over to bad defense and bad base-running," McDonnell said. "For us it started out on offense and it's permeated out to other areas of our game. You've got to readjust. You've got to take a step back." 

And hope that Russ Smith will come back to watch again.

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