CRAWFORD | Five thoughts on Louisville's Super Regional series win over Kentucky
WDRB's Eric Crawford shares five takeaways from Louisville's NCAA Super Regional series win over Kentucky.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Five thoughts on Louisville’s two-game sweep of Kentucky in the NCAA Super Regional, and its fourth trip to the College World Series overall, third in five years.
1). THE KEY MOMENT OF THE SERIES. Every at-bat and every pitch in baseball is a chance to swing momentum, but the key moment of the whole weekend in this one came in the bottom of the seventh inning on Saturday.
Kentucky finally had chased Louisville starter Brendan McKay, and was facing reliever Sam Bordner, who came into the game with two on and walked Evan White. Kentucky has had one of the most potent offenses in college baseball all season. One run was already in and the Wildcats trailed just 4-2.
At the plate was Zach Reks, Kentucky’s second-highest hitter for batting average at .363, and the team leader in two-out hits with runners on base with 23. If Reks can get No. 24, the game changes. UK would have pulled even and would have seized momentum in the game, and perhaps in the series, even though Louisville had won the opening game. Maybe, if he delivers an RBI hit there, UK has a big inning and takes the lead. If it takes the lead, who knows? A Kentucky win on Saturday might’ve thrown it all the momentum heading into a Sunday matchup. The point is you don’t know. I just felt, at that moment, whoever won that match-up on that at-bat was going to win the series.
Bordner won it. Reks, who had struck out only 25 times in 243 at-bats, went down swinging. Bordner won the individual battle, and Louisville went on to tack on a couple more runs, and is heading to Omaha.
“We’ve watched Sam do that all season,” McDonnell said. “We tend to take it for granted sometimes, but you look at his numbers on the season and it’s like video game numbers.”
You can always pick out four or five key moments, even in a blowout contest, in any sporting event, that had something gone a little different, the whole flow of the game might’ve been influenced. In this series, every time Kentucky had a chance for that kind of moment, Louisville made a play, got a strikeout, delivered a hit, made a great defensive play.
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2). LOUISVILLE’S PITCHING WAS OUTSTANDING. No opponent all season had held this Kentucky lineup to just four total runs in two consecutive games. The Wildcats had just one run total in back-to-back SEC Tournament losses to LSU and South Carolina, but beyond that, this was the best two-game run of pitching the Wildcats saw.
Kentucky came into the series hitting .317 as a team – the highest average for any team left in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats hit .227 against Louisville. They had been one of the top two-out hitting teams in the country, but went 5-21 with two outs in this series (.238). With runners in scoring position, they were just 2-for-15 (.133).
Louisville batted just .250 in the series, but batted for more power. Drew Ellis homered three times, Kentucky homered just once in the series. Louisville pitchers struck out 22.
“Against this lineup, that’s hard to do,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said.
3). TWO OUTFIELD CATCHES SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN. There’s a reason Louisville calls its outfield the “No Fly Zone.” In the eighth inning Saturday, Lexington native Logan Taylor ran down a long fly ball in center field, hauling it in right as he crashed into the wall, robbing Kentucky of an extra base hit and any final threat they were going to make against the Cardinals.
“We believe he’s the best center fielder in America in the best outfield in the country,” McDonnell said.
The other catch came in game one, after Louisville had put the first runs of the series on the board in the second inning. That’s when Colin Lyman ran down a high line drive to right field, fully extending on a dive toward the outfield wall to rob Kentucky of an extra base hit that would’ve been one of the Wildcats’ trademark answers following an opponent’s scoring inning.
You can’t underestimate the value of those kinds of plays, the confidence they give a pitcher, and an entire team. And Louisville players recognize that. After Lyman's catch, every Louisville hat on the field came off and pointed Lyman's direction in right field.
4). THE RIVALRY ASPECT HELPED LOUISVILLE. I’m not saying there weren’t any, but I didn’t hear a single media question about the draft in the three days leading up to the game after Kentucky won its regional Monday night.
The power of a Kentucky-Louisville rivalry grabbed its share of the spotlight in this week’s series, and a lot of the questions about Louisville having lost back-to-back super regionals at home seemed to fade into the background in the face of an immediate challenge from a Top 10 rival coming in.
I’m not saying Louisville wouldn’t have been sharp and had the same series against any team that came in. I am saying that it didn’t hurt that having the opponent be Kentucky focused everybody in, maybe just an ounce or two more, than another team might have.
And every bit of focus on the game was a bit less on other things. Just a thought.
5). DREW ELLIS. Kentucky coach Nick Mingione noted on Friday that coming into this series, the Louisville infielder Drew Ellis was hitting .080 in his prior 30 at-bats. It doesn’t mean Kentucky wasn’t worried about him, but it does mean it was aware he was struggling, and wouldn’t have minded seeing him struggle.
Ellis doesn’t struggle much against Kentucky. The junior from Jeffersonville was 4-for-8 with three home runs and six RBI in the two wins against the Wildcats. In his six career games against Kentucky during the last two seasons, Ellis has gone 10-for-21 with four home runs, three doubles and 16 RBI. For the season, Ellis leads the Cardinals with a .367 batting average, 20 home runs, 61 RBI and a .729 slugging percentage.
And when McDonnell knew he couldn’t get through an inspirational reading he shared with his team at the start of the news conference, he handed it to Ellis who blew right through it.
“I wasn’t trying to do too much,” he said. “I was trying to get on base, be patient and put good swings on the road. (UK starter Sean) Hjelle is a great pitcher. He’s going to be something special down the road. He’s tall and he throws it straight down. I just tried to stay simple and not do too much, got a fastball and slider and just put some good swings on it. In the regionals I was trying to do way too much. Being a hometown kid, I wanted to get the home runs, get the RBIs, be the player of the game. But I came into this weekend just thinking about laying it all out there. I had to bring energy. I just needed to bring an edge. There was definitely a conscious effort to keep it simple.”
BONUS NOTE: You’ll likely note that you didn’t see much about national player of the year Brendan McKay in this group of notes. You will. He’ll be the focus of coverage for the next two days with the Major League Baseball Draft, and we’ll talk more about his legacy in Louisville, and in college baseball. For now, revisit this regional column I wrote about him for a reminder of his place in Louisville baseball.
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