CRAWFORD | Harrington practices what he preaches, pitches Louisville to fourth straight regional title
Drew Harrington led the team chapel service in the morning, then shut down Wright State in the afternoon to help the Cardinals to a 3-1 win and their fourth straight NCAA regional championship.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Home or away, on Sunday mornings during the season, the University of Louisville baseball team holds a chapel service. It was no different this Sunday, even with an NCAA Regional on the line later that afternoon.
What was different is that instead of U of L Fellowship of Christian Athletes chaplain Chris Morgan, or a former athlete or local pastor leading the service, Cardinals junior lefthander Drew Harrington wanted to speak.
He stood before his teammates and talked about Philippians, Chapter 3, “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead.”
Hours later, Harrington took the mound and practiced what he had preached, tossing 7 1/3 scoreless innings to lead the Cardinals to a 3-1 victory over Wright State, and their fourth consecutive NCAA Regional championship. (Click here for the box score)
And once again, the Cards find themselves just two wins away from Omaha and the College World Series. They’ll face the winner of the Nashville regional in next weekend’s Louisville Super Regional. Their victory over Wright State on Sunday gives them their third 50-win season in the past four years. And Harrington, the All-American pitcher and ACC pitcher of the year, was a major reason for it. He had struggled in a loss at the ACC Tournament last week, but heeded his own Biblical advice on Sunday and moved forward.
“It’s not often we have a player lead the chapel, but he asked to do it and wanted to do it. As a coach it’s a good feeling knowing you have leaders like that,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “. . . And it was a great message he had, because he struggled last weekend, and he talked about the outing he had against Virginia, and as a coach you hear that and you’re thinking, man, this kid’s ready. He’s mature enough to move past that game in the ACC Tournament, and you saw what he did today. So as a coach, I’m really proud of this group and who they are and what they stand for. My job is just to keep them in line with the process.”
I don’t know where the New Testament stands on starting pitching, but U of L starters these days are pitching by faith — and by sight. In their three games in the NCAA regional, U of L starters Kyle Funkhouser, Brendan McKay and Harrington gave up just a single earned run in 21 innings. Three Cardinal relievers worked just six innings in the regional.
“I said coming in here that they’re one of the best hitting teams in college baseball,” Wright State’s Ryan Fucci said. “If they can get that kind of pitching, they’re that much tougher. (Harrington) pitched as well as anybody we’ve seen all season.”
Still, Harrington said he never could feel in sync, even though he did become the third 12-game winner on the staff with the win that boosted him to 12-2.
“Early on, I just didn’t feel as sharp, as into the game as I could have been,” he said. “But I was able to settle down in the fifth and sixth, and really get it going. The breaking ball seemed to get better as the game went on and defense played really well behind me. So really, just an overall good game for everybody. After I came into the dugout after that dugout, I said, I just hope I can get a clean inning sometime.”
The Cards got all the offense they needed from junior second baseman Nick Solak. After a Will Smith infield hit to open the fourth inning, Solak homered to left to put U of L up 2-0. Then in the fifth, Logan Taylor was hit by a pitch, then Smith singled up the middle, setting up a Solak RBI single to left to score Taylor and put the Cards up 3-0.
“Our offense put a lot of guys on base,” Solak said. “We were grinding out a lot of at-bats. We were a hit short in a couple of situations, but we did enough to win the game.”
On defense, wearing caps with the name “ALI” printed on the right hand side, the Cards were inspired, after committing five errors in the first two games.
McKay was named Most Outstanding Player for the regional, but there wasn’t a great deal of celebration after the game. The Cards took their regional trophy. They shook hands. They huddled on the field, like they always do. They talked after the game about not taking regional championships for granted, but this was a businesslike response to a machine-like effort which ground up three opponents by a combined score of 24-5.
In his chapel talk with teammates, Harrington ended with this: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior.”
He talked to his team about reaching forward, about eagerly anticipating.
You couldn’t help but get the message that this team is eagerly awaiting a chance to finish the job that was interrupted a year ago when a disputed foul ball cost them a third consecutive trip to the College World Series.
“Doing it three years in a row is just a great accomplishment to what coach Mac has built, and coach (Roger) Williams. . . .,” Harrington said. “Really, they’re building a monster here. It’s a great accomplishment for us, and I just hope we all stay humble with it, don’t take it for granted because it’s a true blessing, and hopefully this year we can make the most of it and get back to Omaha and win some games there.”
Super Regional times won’t be announced until Monday night.
McDonnell said he’ll be in no rush to name a starter for Game 1 of that best-of-three series. And the way his rotation is performing, you can understand why.
“We know Funkhouser’s resume,” McDonnell said. “You know, McKay, short resume, for two years of college baseball. Then you stick Harrington in there. And then Cade McLure, we had Cade doing the chart. It’s a good feeling knowing, if we don’t win today, we’ve got a guy with 12 wins or something that you’re going to hand the ball to. You’ve got to have starting pitching. Our bullpen is good, we didn’t get to use a lot of it this weekend. Then, of course, with Zack Burdi as the closer. You combine the three, talented pitchers, a great pitching coach and we’ve said all season this might be the best defensive team we’ve had here. We feel like we have a chance to keep teams from scoring.”
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