CRAWFORD | Cards fall 4-2 to UCSB in NCAA Super Regional Game 1; - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Cards fall 4-2 to UCSB in NCAA Super Regional Game 1; face elimination game Sunday

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Baseball has a reputation as a slow-moving sport. Don’t believe it. One second you’re sitting there as the No. 2 ranked team in the nation and the oddsmakers’ favorite to win the College World Series, the next you’re facing an elimination game.

Slow? The complexion of an entire season can change on a single afternoon, and not just if you forget your sunscreen after summer weather arrived in a serious way a day before.

The University of Louisville baseball team has been among the top-ranked teams in the nation all season. But after a single sticky afternoon in Jim Patterson Stadium, the No. 2-ranked Cardinals find themselves in a win-or-go-home situation when they face UC Santa Barbara on Sunday at noon.

The No. 13-ranked Gauchos, playing in their first-ever Super Regional game, took a 4-2 victory at U of L on Saturday, getting to Cardinals’ starter Brendan McKay in the third, fourth and fifth inning and using seven standout innings from starter Shane Bieber to hand U of L just its second home loss of the season in 38 games.

You could point to a lot of reasons. Some speculated that this week’s MLB Draft may have distracted the Cardinals, who had eight players taken over three days. But it’s hard to argue a lack of focus when you jump out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning — which U of L did on a Blake Tiberi home run to right.

There was a little bad luck. UCSB scored its first run on a bloop double to shallow right. After a crushing Austin Bush homer to center — his fourth homer in four games — put the Gauchos up 2-1, J.J. Muno reached when Nick Solak couldn’t come up with a ball cleanly at second. He wound up being UCSB’s third run, when Kyle Plantier doubled down the left field line.

After the game, U of L (50-13) gathered around coach Dan McDonnell in right field, for what he said might have been the shortest postgame discussion of the season.

In it, there was no psychological talk. In fact, it could be summed up in a simple two-word slogan the team uses.

“One of our sayings is, ‘So what?’” McDonnell said. “What are you going to do? It’s baseball. Just get ready to play tomorrow. One of the shortest meetings we’ve had.”

For their part, the Cardinals players remained confident.

“Nobody’s panicking,” Tiberi said. “Nobody’s freaking out. We’ve been down before. Like Mac said it’s a two-out-of-three series so I’m thinking like the Virginia series where we came out and lost game one and came out really focused and really competed for games two and three. So right now, I feel like we are in a good place.”

It takes more than one good pitcher to win a Super Regional series, but UCSB has won at Vanderbilt, and McDonnell said Bieber was one of the best pitchers his team has faced all season. And UCSB coach Andrew Checketts says his players feel as if "they're playing with house money" after the upset win in Nashville.

"Our guys played different," Checketts said after Saturday's win. "We talked about last weekend maybe flipping a switch. . . . We're not the best hitting team in the world, we're not the best pitching team in the world, but we can play some infield defense and we did that here today. We really played with a different level of energy."

Regardless, McDonnell refused to express worry, beyond saying he’s glad the game is at noon Sunday — “the sooner the better,” he said.

He’ll send Drew Harrington to the mound. The 12-game winner is coming off a strong start in a regional win. UCSB hadn’t settled on a starter after the game Saturday. U of L’s offense, if it awakens, will test its pitching depth.

“This team is a loose group,” McDonnell said. “They’re goofy at times. I just want them to be themselves, be loose. We’ll stick to the process. We’ve lost before and we’ve lost Game 1 before. It’s not the end of the world. Somebody’s got to win two games. We will just do our best to compete tomorrow.

“It’s just baseball. There’s nothing we’ll stay up late and try to dissect tonight. I fall asleep early anyway, so I’m not going to be up late.”

He will be up early, however, with a do-or-die test awaiting.

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