LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Tip your cap to Dan McDonnell.

Tell him he’s the Joe Maddon of college baseball. Ask him for his pick in the Belmont Stakes Saturday. If McDonnell gives you a sign, pay attention.

But most of all credit McDonnell for putting the University of Louisville baseball team in a sweet spot in the Cardinals’ push to advance to Omaha and the 2017 NCAA College Baseball World Series.

How sweet?

Louisville beat Kentucky, 5-2, in the opener of the best-of-three Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium Friday, and McDonnell has the best left-handed pitcher in college baseball – national player of the year Brendan McKay – primed to pitch Game Two Saturday at noon.

That’s not the way I would have played it. I would have gone with McKay to put the heat on the Wildcats from the first pitch.

But McDonnell trusted Kade McClure’s ability to control Kentucky’s powerful offense – and McClure delivered, giving Louisville 5 1/3 nearly flawless innings as the Game One starter. Tip your hat to Dan McDonnell.

"We challenged him to set the tone for the weekend," said McDonnell, who said he made the decision to start McClure a week ago.

"I just tried to get ahead (of the UK hitters)," McClure said. "I have the best outfield in America, the best infield in America and a brick wall behind home plate."

McClure was certainly good enough to earn the win on an afternoon when U of L third baseman Drew Ellis drove in four runs – and also good enough for the Cards to survive a shaky ninth inning by closer Lincoln Henzman that saw the Wildcats score their only two runs and bring the tying run to the plate.

McClure faced 20 hitters, allowing three hits (all singles) while walking one. He struck out six, winning for the eighth time this season.

"I thought their (McClure) did a good job," said UK coach Nick Mingione. "He moved the fastball to both sides of the plate." 

The second hitter of the game was Evan White, the Kentucky first baseman who will be a first-round pick in the MLB Free Agent Draft. White hit a ground ball that McClure rushed forward to grab in time to get the out. But McClure faced an awkward throwing angle and tossed the baseball into right field, allowing White to advance to second.

"I found out I wasn't Derek Jeter," McClure said.

No, but he was Mike Mussina. Kentucky failed to score, stranding a  runner at third.

In the fifth, with Louisville leading only 2-0, McClure pitched like the guy who deserved the baseball on Friday. Leadoff single, followed by another single. Tying runs on base, no outs.

No problem. McClure pounced on a bunt by Kentucky’s Marcus Carson and threw Kole Cottam out at third. He followed with a wild pitch, but Carson hesitated before running to second base. He was thrown out by U of L catcher Colby Fitch. McClure silenced Kentucky by striking out Connor Heady.

McClure faced two hitters in the sixth, walking Tristan Pompey before retiring White on a fly out. Adam Wolf began 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief with a double-play grounder by Kentucky Zach Reks.

The Cardinals had enough runs to cruise from there. Devin Mann had singled Logan Taylor in the first – and then Mann scored on a ground out by Drew Ellis.

Remember that name. Ellis had been slumping with only two hits in his previous 22 at bats. No more. He launched a 3-2 changeup breaking ball over the left-field fence for a three-run home run in the fifth that pushed Louisville ahead, 5-0.

"I was struggling a little bit, but I trust my ability," Ellis said. 

"He was a hitter who was hitting less than .100 in his last 30 at bats," Mingione said.

A solo home run by Evan White off Louisville closer Lincoln Henzman ended the shutout. Henzman was not finished making McDonnell and McClure sweat.

After getting two ground outs, Henzman allowed a single, a walk and another single, giving Kentucky its second run.

Kentucky coach Nick Mingione went to freshman T.J. Collett, who had two hits all season. He stepped into the batters’ box as the tying run.

Collett still only has two hits. Henzman struck him out on a high fastball, giving the Cardinals the early edge in the series – with Brendan McKay primed to pitch  against Kentucky ace Sean Hjelle Saturday.

The best pitcher in the Southeastern Conference (Hjelle) against the national player of the year (McKay).

How does Kentucky attack McKay?

"I'm not ready to tell you that," Mingione said, with a laugh. "I'll tell you after the game (Saturday)."

"It will be a fun matchup," McDonnell said. "These are the best agains the best."

Just as Dan McDonnell planned it.

Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.