CRAWFORD | FSU bounces Louisville from ACC Tourney as late skid continues for Cards
The University of Louisville baseball team's struggles in the ACC Tournament continued Friday, with a 6-2 loss to Florida State. They'll await their NCAA Tournament draw on Monday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In a way, the University of Louisville baseball team is no worse off than it has been heading into the past two NCAA Tournaments after Friday’s 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament loss to Florida State in Louisville Slugger Field.
For a third straight year, the Cardinals failed to make the ACC semifinals. In each of the past two years, they went on to win NCAA regionals before losing at home in the super regional round.
There’s no reason to think the No. 4-ranked Cardinals can’t resume their run of regionals this season. Monday’s NCAA Selection pairings figure to bring good news for the Cardinals, who are expected to be a top-eight national seed and host a regional for the ninth time in 10 years.
But in some ways, this season feels different. For starters, this ACC Tournament was a hometown affair, played in front of a Louisville Slugger Field crowd of 8,843, with larger crowds expected had the home team advanced to the weekend.
But more importantly, Louisville’s loss Friday was its fourth in five games. After losing only six games in three months, the Cards have dropped four in 11 days. They didn’t get the timely hits, or pitching, that they needed. They were 1-12 with two out. They went 0-4 with runners in scoring position.
In their last 10 games before the late-season struggles started, Louisville pitchers gave up 25 runs. In their past five games, the Cardinals have yielded 32 runs. And then there’s the matter of the way the past two seasons ended, especially last season, with closer Zack Burdi coughing up a sure save on a walk-off grand slam in an elimination loss to UC Santa Barbara at home.
While this Louisville team was not favored to do what it did in winning the ACC, its performance over the course of the regular season and its near-misses the past two years mean that anything short of a trip to Omaha – and winning some games there – likely will be viewed as a disappointment by many. It's the price of success.
Fortunately for coach Dan McDonnell and his team, they’ve shown an ability to shake off ACC Tournament losses and play well in regionals – even if the cast of players is ever-changing. But they’d just as soon not see Florida State anymore.
The surging Seminoles took their third straight game from the Cards – all played in the city of Louisville – behind another outstanding performance from left-hander Tyler Holton, who allowed only two runs – one earned – while striking out 10 and giving up just four hits over eight innings. He collected his second win over Louisville in less than a week.
Louisville starter Kade McClure walked four batters and gave up four earned runs – matching his season high -- in six innings. Closer Lincoln Henzman, inserted with nobody out and a runner on with a 4-2 deficit in the ninth, gave up a bloop single, then a two-run double down the line.
Florida State got to McClure early, using a pair of first-inning doubles to claim a 2-0 lead. The Cards got a run back in the bottom half of the third, then gave up two more in the fourth.
Brendan McKay homered for his second straight game in the tournament, but his solo shot to lead off the sixth couldn’t get anything else going for the Cardinals, who fell to 47-10 on the season. Helton, a freshman All-American a year ago, improved to 9-2 on the season; McClure dropped to 7-3.
The challenge now for McDonnell is to keep his team up emotionally. Momentum is a powerful thing, and the Cards have struggled at a bad time, when the games are starting to mean the most. Still, the ACC Tournament has been, to this point, controlled by teams who were the most desperate to win games and improve their NCAA Tournament position.
McDonnell now will have to channel some of that same hunger for his own players.
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