BOZICH: Small Ball Has Louisville Baseball Standing Tall
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Ty Young leads the University of Louisville baseball team in runs batted in. Jeff Thompson strikes out more hitters than any pitcher on the Cardinals' roster. Nick Burdi is number one in saves.
Cole Sturgeon leads the team in fearlessness.
I know that neither Abner Doubleday nor the NCAA created a category for that quality on their scorebooks. But U of L baseball coach Dan McDonnell demands that his guys perform without fear.
Saturday, when it appeared the Cardinals were not going to score any runs off Miami, they somehow scored six while hitting one ball out of the infield. Louisville defeated the Hurricanes, 6-4, at Jim Patterson Stadium, earning their place in the championship game of the winners' bracket of the NCAA Baseball regional.
On Sunday at 4 p.m. the Cards will play either Oklahoma State or Miami (after they play at noon). A win in that game, or if necessary on Monday, will put Louisville in the Super Regional next weekend.
Sturgeon showed Miami, and a national television audience, what it means to play without fear. This is how Louisville scored those six runs when the Cardinals trailed, 1-0, in the seventh inning:
A hit batter, a single off the first baseman's glove, another hit batter (Sturgeon), a ground ball force out at home, a walk (that scored the tying run), a sacrifice bunt (that scored Sturgeon with the lead run), another walk and, finally, a bases-clearing double into the left-field corner (by Nick Ratajczak).
Ratajczak was Louisville's eighth hitter in the inning. He was the first Cardinal to hit the ball more than 95 feet.
That's creative baseball. It's also fearless baseball. When Coco Johnson started the inning by letting a pitch hit him in the foot he became the 116th U of L hit batsman this season.
Sturgeon became No. 117 – and 30 minutes after the game he still had two numb fingers on his left hand to prove it. Sturgeon was batting with runners on first and second when McDonnell asked him to bunt. He had two strikes. McDonnell knows that Sturgeon has no fear of failure because if Sturgeon fails to deliver the bunt he kills the rally.
What happened, though, was that Miami pitcher Bryan Radziewski tried to crowd Sturgeon with a breaking ball. The pitch was inside – so inside that even after Sturgeon tried to pull back his bat, the baseball ricocheted off the third and fourth fingers on his left hand.
Sturgeon immediately fell to the ground in pain. Miami catcher Garrett Kennedy argued that the ball hit Sturgeon's bat. Kennedy still believes that – and that Sturgeon was out.
Phil Benson, the home plate umpire, was not sure. He looked at Sturgeon on the ground and asked to examine his left hand.
Sturgeon removed his batting glove. The tips of those two fingers were red, shaking and starting to swell. Sturgeon might lose a nail.
"In high school I really wasn't conditioned to let the ball hit me," said Sturgeon, who grew up Owensboro, which is also the hometown of Logan Johnson, the hit-by-pitch king of Louisville's 2007 College World Series team.
"When I got to college, I learned that you've got to take one sometimes. I remember hearing all the stories about how Logan's body was beat up all the time from all the pitches that used to hit him. It hurt. I still need some ice. But it was worth it."
Sturgeon showed his fearlessness one more time. He was perched on third base when McDonnell asked Sutton Whiting to bunt with the bases loaded.
In baseball the play is called the suicide squeeze. That's because the runner on third base must start sprinting toward home plate as soon as the pitcher delivers the pitch. If the bunt goes down, he scores easily. If it doesn't, the runner is out easily. Either way, the runner cannot show fear.
Sturgeon did not show fear. Whiting bunted the ball superbly, forcing Radziewski to scramble and then make a terrible throw.
Sturgeon was safe from here to Owensboro. Louisville led 2-1, and McDonnell's team showed why it is so important to play without fear.
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