LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — All season, University of Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell has used the same two words when referencing his team’s chances to do something special. He has said his team just needs to “play clean.”
But in its biggest game of the season Saturday night, the Cardinals, for the first time in this NCAA Tournament didn’t play clean. The pitchers walked nine batters. There were two passed balls. And that was enough to send the Cardinals (50-16) to the College’ World Series’ losers’ bracket and a 3 p.m. elimination game today against Texas (43-20).
“What’s glaring is the two passed balls with a runner on third,” McDonnell said. “Maybe that’s the difference in the game. Because we swung it well and had a lot of good at bats, they had a lot of good at bats, nobody made a lot of errors. So those passed balls really killed us. . . . You’ve got to play good baseball. … It usually comes down to a mistake or two.”
Those mistakes can’t linger in the Cardinals’ minds, however, heading into today’s game against Texas.
“It’s a new day,” McDonnell told reporters before the Cards’ workout on Sunday. “We do a pretty good job of turning the page. It’s tough. Losing hurts, you want to come out here and play good baseball. You want to keep playing.”
“Everybody was a little down last night,” U of L outfielder Jeff Gardner said. “It’s going to happen. But our motto all year after a bad game has been just flush it. Turn the page and forget about it. So that’s what we’ve got to do, just go out and get prepared for the next game.”
In their next game, the Cardinals will face a team much like their own. The Longhorns are “small-ball” specialists. They’ll put pressure on opposing pitchers and catchers once on base. But McDonnell said his team is familiar with the style, and has practiced a great deal against it.
Texas is no stranger to this setting. The Longhorns are making their NCAA-record 35th trip to Omaha and the College World Series. The programs have never met — though they were nearly conference mates when the Big 12 gave U of L serious consideration for membership several years ago, before choosing West Virginia instead.
“They’re going to put pressure on you. They like to bunt,” McDonnell said. “I feel good as a coach. We spent a lot of time defending the bunt, so I can sleep a little better tonight knowing that we’ve worked on that so much. Still, you’ve got to make plays, got to make pitches, got to make plays.”
The Cardinals will send sophomore Anthony Kidston to the mound. He is 9-0 this season and 14-0 as a college starter. He has yet to lose a start as a college player, and the Cardinals are 12-1 this season and 17-2 overall in games he has started. In 13 starts this season, Kidston has a 3.54 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 68.2 innings pitched. French enters the matchup at 6-5 with a 2.45 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 95.1 innings, including 15 starts and 18 appearances.
The Cards also will need to find a bit more offense. They have won 55 straight games, and are 39-0 this season, when scoring five or more runs.
A couple of freshmen are delivering at the plate in the postseason. Freshman Nick Solak is hitting .368 with a pair of doubles, a home run, eight RBI and four runs scored. He’s also walked five times and stolen two bases in his six NCAA Tournament starts. Freshman Corey Ray is 8-for-20 (.400) with three doubles and three RBI in six NCAA starts.
Senior Cole Sturgeon is hitting .375 in the NCAA Tournament and is .359 in 17 career NCAA Tournament games. He needs just one more hit to take sole possession of fifth place on U of L’s all-time list for hits.
The winner of today’s game advances to another elimination game against either UC Irvine or Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved. Comments from John Lewis, reporting for WDRB in Omaha.