Cole Sturgeon hit and pitched Louisville to the College World Series.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Any program can make one improbable trip to the College World Series. Some return a second time.
It’s a powerful program that gets to Omaha in back-to-back seasons. You expect it from warm-weather monsters like Texas, Louisiana State, USC or Miami.
Only nine schools have gone back-to-back in the last decade. Add a 10th team to the list – Dan McDonnell’s University of Louisville Cardinals.
The Cards proved they could get to Nebraska in 2007 – and then made another trip last season. They won their third NCAA Super Regional by coming from behind to beat Kennesaw State, 7-4, Saturday night at Jim Patterson Stadium, which vibrated with a record crowd of 6,007.
"I'm really proud of these kids," McDonnell said. "This was a goal they set. This was a culture they created."
Louisville swept the best-of-three series and will play either Vanderbilt or Stanford in Omaha next weekend. Vandy and Stanford will play their final game Sunday in Nashville.
Consider it an exclamation point on a day that included another highlight – five more Cardinal players were selected in the Major League Baseball Draft.
That bumped the Cards’ total to eight players selected over three days. That tied Louisville with Oregon State, Virginia, Stanford, Florida State and Washington for the most guys taken in 2014.
Louisville surged into the lead in the fifth. Nick Solak, the team’s freshman designated hitter, performed as if he wanted to leave for Omaha Saturday night.
Solak lined a two-run home run to left field to push the Cardinals ahead, 5-4. He did it against Kennesaw State ace Travis Bergen, who beat Alabama twice in the regional. It was Solak’s fourth hit of the series and gave him six runs batted in.
"I wasn't trying to do too much," Solak said. "As far as that home run, Coach Mac told me not to try to do too much and be ready for that pitch ... a fast ball in."
Did Solak think the ball was going to sail over the fence for the only home run of the series?
"I had a pretty good idea," he said. "But I was running around the bags pretty fast, just in case. It's hard to describe. It's kind of like when you hit it you make such good contact you don't feel anything off the bat. Your swing is just air. I looked up and I saw it going. Then I put my head down and just started running."
The Cards added to their lead in the sixth when senior Cole Sturgeon singled, scoring Colin Ray and Sutton Whiting.
Seven Louisville players had hits. Starter Anthony Kidston gave McDonnell six solid innings. Relievers Zach Burdi, Drew Harrington, Sturgeon and Nick Burdi got the final nine outs.
The game ended with Nick Burdi striking out Kennesaw State cleanup hitter Bo Way. Lucas dropped the pitch, but threw to first to retire Way as Burdi tossed his glove in the air, a signal for the Cards to start their celebration on the field
Kennesaw State scored first – and without hesitation. Leadoff man Kal Simmons opened the bottom of the first with a double to left-center.
Coach Mike Sansing showed he intended to play like every run was precious, asking Jacob Bruce to bunt Simmons to third. He did – and catcher Max Pentecost singled to left to score the run.
Louisville waited until the third inning to break through, scoring twice. A sacrifice fly by Solak, his fourth RBI of the weekend, scored Zach Lucas. Jeff Gardner followed that with a single to right that scored Kyle Gibson, who reached on a well-placed bunt.
The lead disappeared in the bottom of the inning as Kennesaw State scored three times. Pentecost, the first-round pick of the Blue Jays, was in the middle of that rally, too.
He doubled to right center to drive in the first two runs. The third scored on a ground out.
But that was all the offense Kennesaw State had – and it wasn’t enough to stop Louisville from getting back to Omaha.