OMAHA, Neb. (WDRB) – Of all the ways you thought a University of Louisville trip to the College World Series might end, Cardinals’ coach Dan McDonnell packing his bags in the dugout and leaving the game after being thrown out in the eighth inning probably wasn’t anywhere on the list.

Yet that’s what happened after the Cards’ Ryan Summers was thrown out stealing with one out in the eighth inning of a 4-3 game against TCU. McDonnell, who had already been out to argue one close call at second, sprinted out almost as fast as his player had run down the baseline. After he turned to walk away, the second base umpire ejected him.

Replays in the press box produced the general consensus that TCU shortstop Ryan Merrill missed the tag on Summers. No matter. Though college baseball will allow game stoppages for coaches to call their runners off the base paths for board-meeting type get-togethers on the base lines, the NCAA does not allow replay of close calls on the bases, even in the late innings of the College World Series.

After McDonnell’s exit, Brendan McKay took one swing and struck out, and the Cardinals went down in the ninth to lose it 4-3, going home with a 53-12 record.

“I made a mistake,” McDonnell said of his ejection. “Obviously I lost my cool. Just fought for my guy, knowing the point in the game and how valuable that base was. But I’m never going to stand behind a camera and blame an umpire or anything like that. That’s not the reason we lost. I don’t’ know if I should’ve been thrown out, but that’s not my call to make. That’s their call to make. But I definitely fought for my guys.”

Louisville has some experience with controversial calls in big games. But the program is where it is because McDonnell responds the way he responds. He doesn’t try to double down in a battle he knows he’s not going to win. He turns around, builds up his team, and moves forward.

There are several ways you can look at a loss like this.

There are fans out there who see another talented team, with its Major League Draft picks, a team that was favored by at least one sports book to win the College World Series, and yet did not. And they can be disappointed. I get that. I get being disappointed in the loss. That Louisville clubhouse Thursday night is as disappointed as you’re going to find. Disappointment is normal. But frankly, this is disappointment with a small “d.”

If you’re not proud of this team, I’m not sure what to tell you. These guys won at a freakish rate. They stumbled at the end of the season against a team that wound up in the College World Series itself, then gathered themselves and swept the regional and Super Regional tournaments at home, the last against a very talented state rival that was a Top 10 team in the nation.

They got to Omaha and for the first time in program history, won their first game here. Then they stumbled against a Florida team that hadn’t been scored on in two games. Then they fell in a one-run game against a team making its fourth trip to the College World Series.

Disappointing, yes. But this team did nothing but the right things, the right way. Brendan McKay was the best player in Louisville history and finished one of the great careers in college baseball history without even once beating his own chest or giving in to today’s “look at me” culture. His last college pitching start was a win in Omaha and he homered in his final college game.

McKay was bitterly disappointed in the locker room after the game. When somebody asked him a question about the umpires, giving him a chance to make an excuse for his team, he laid off it like a fastball out of the zone.

“It’s baseball. It’s human,” he said. “I mean, there’s no robotic strike zone or sensors for the baseball and glove and foot touching the base or anything like that. So, I mean, you can’t fault anybody for that.”

McKay talked about everyone but himself.

“This was just an awesome group of guys,” he said. “I mean, I’ve said it before, but I would love to have every guy on this team as my brother. I would love for us to have gotten here with the last two teams, in 2016 and 2015, but still, those guys were awesome. We bonded a lot this year. They scored early tonight, but we put up zeros and shut their offense down, we just couldn’t get some hits in timely situations, and if some calls had gone a different way, maybe things would’ve gone differently.”

Logan Taylor, a senior, said he was bound to feel a little sadness, no matter how it ended.

“The ride’s over,” he said. “You want the ride to go on as long as you can. I probably would have cried a little even if we won the national championship, just because you know the ride is over. But I had so much fun with these guys. This great, unbelievable team. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year, other than to win it all. But I’m going to miss all these guys.”

Want to know how Taylor felt about the umps?

“There were just a bunch of close plays, and especially because we’re behind, you really want to those to help you get some momentum and help you get close,” he said. “But, again, they’re all very, very close and if I go back and watch them, he probably got them all right.”

TCU chased Louisville starter Nick Bennett with four runs in the second inning, and that’s all the Horned Frogs (49-17) needed. Louisville answered with a run in the third, then a homer by McKay in the fourth, and Taylor in the fifth. The Cards left two on in the third and the fifth.

When you fall behind 4-0 and you have a bunch of draft picks, it would be easy to mail the rest in, turn the page. That didn’t happen. After McDonnell was ejected, closer Lincoln Henzman loaded the bases with one out. Again, the Cards could’ve packed it in. The final number could’ve looked ugly. Didn’t happen. Henzman clamped down, got a force out at the plate, and escaped the jam.

“I'm proud of these guys,” McDonnell said.

Their fans should be too. Not just of the players, but of the program and coach.

Think about this: There were four bang-bang plays in this game, including one at the plate that could’ve changed the complexion of the game in the second. All of them went against Louisville. For those young players to respond the way they did is proof of the job McDonnell has done.

McDonnell didn’t deserve to be thrown out. I don’t even really care what he said. It’s the College World Series and he had turned to go back to the dugout and the call was wrong in the first place – though it was a close call. I asked McDonnell if he was surprised when he heard he’d gotten the hook.

“Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I’m not an expert in this,” he said. “ . . . I think 2010 might’ve been my last ejection. I’m just sad. I don’t want that to be – I mean I’ve got no ego about it, people can say or write whatever they want – I just don’t want to take the emphasis off the kids and their talent. They just lost to a national seed. A great team in TCU that’s been here four straight years. I’d rather the emphasis be on the game.”

Baseball is a bright spot at U of L. Yeah, all that talent, and no title. Baseball is a funny game. The best teams, even in the Major Leagues, don’t always win. It’s a 25-man roster and you need most of those guys to deliver. This isn’t basketball.

If you want that analysis of this coach, you won’t get it here. What he has done is take a program that was virtually nowhere to be seen and turn it into a national power. The notion of a Louisville player being drafted in the first round was unheard of until two years ago. He didn’t climb into a Cadillac when he took over this program. He has one now.

The view from TD Ameritrade Park, well past midnight on the final night of the U of L sports season, is that it ended in a way Cardinal fans could be proud of, even if it wasn’t dog piling after winning the College World Series. And these days, that’s no small thing.

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