LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – You can at least say this about the Louisville baseball team's trip to Durham, North Carolina, for the ACC Tournament this week – it didn't drag on.
The No. 10-ranked and top-seeded Cardinals played two of their worst games of the season in succession to make an early exit. After falling to Boston College 6-2 in a complete-game effort by left-hander Dan Metzdorf, the Cardinals topped themselves by being no-hit into the ninth inning of a 7-1 loss to Clemson in a game that meant little after both teams had been eliminated from pool play.
It's not the end of the world – though it could be the end of Louisville's hope for a top-eight national seed. Louisville has never won an ACC Tournament, and that hasn't stopped the Cardinals from reaching the College World Series.
But it'll take a particularly productive week of practice to overcome two games like this, when the ACC's hottest bats went silent, the defense struggled and even pitching ace Reid Detmers wasn't sharp, giving up five earned runs in four innings.
Clemson's Mat Clark had a perfect game going through the eighth inning and emerged with his ninth win of the season.
Louisville, now, will come home to regroup. But coach Dan McDonnell feels like his Cardinals can do that.
"These guys are really good," McDonnell said of his team. "They know I know they're good. Like I said, for me it's just pushing them and challenging them and getting them to -- when they say 'play ball' next Friday night (in the NCAA Regional), just making sure that they're confident and they're ready. And it's not just me; I mean, we're pointing the finger at me. We've got a lot of support. ... Everybody that works with these guys, we'll make sure that these guys are feeling good, and like I said, we've got a saying going that you can't steal our hope, that this week is not going to steal our hope."
It did, at least temporarily, steal their bats. With just four hits in two days, the Cards' stint in Durham was their least productive two-game stint of an otherwise successful season.
Now, McDonnell and his players will look to make the most of it. They'll come back to Louisville, get some practice and hope to turn the page quickly.
"I told the guys in the outfield, 'It's my favorite week of the year,'" McDonnell said. "I mean, we have not had a full week of practice until before the first weekend. We played a midweek game every week of the year. We have to have an NCAA off day every week of the year. The kids want to practice and play, and for me as a coach, knowing I can schedule an entire week (of practice) ... , I love it. I'm chomping at the bit. If we couldn't fly back tonight, I'd be going back myself just to get organized so when they get back, or now we all get back, we're ready to go. Like (Tyler Fitzgerald) said, it starts tomorrow, and we've got a full week to address some things and coach better and get these guys to play better."
Clemson chased Detmers with a three-run fourth inning that put the Tigers up 5-0. Louisville didn't score, or record a hit, until Zach Britton hit a pinch-hit homer to open the ninth.
"(Clark) pitched great today, but try not to change anything, and we were kind of getting ourselves out today, and as you see the top of the lineup all the way through the lineup we weren't really having good at-bats," Fitzgerald said. "We weren't really focused on him; we were more focused on ourselves. I think it's a contagious game, and just seeing one after another bad at-bat just kind of put us down a little bit. But nothing really changes, to be honest with you. ... But we're going to have a good week of practice starting tomorrow and we're going to get our stuff together. We've got to have better attitudes, just better at-bats, better defense, better pitching. Everything has got to come together at the right time. Luckily, we can get that out of the way right there and hopefully move forward from here."
If McDonnell is worried, he didn't sound like it. While baseball is a game of momentum, he also knows that it's a game of averages, and his team, on average, has been good. He expects it to be good again in an expected NCAA Regional in Louisville next week.
Louisville lost six of its last 10 games and struggled against some top-shelf pitching. But McDonnell is hoping his team will make the most of a week of practice.
"You can have a bad day; you can have a bad week," McDonnell said. "It's a long year. These guys are good hitters. But the one thing they do know is I keep my thumb on them pretty good. I put a lot of pressure on these guys throughout the year. The magnitude of every game, every game counts; every game goes on your resume. Don't take a game off. So our history shows a pretty good track record in the postseason, not because of me but because players like Fitz and these guys have responded, so I'm confident that these guys will respond. ... They're super talented. They won 43 games and won the most in a really good baseball league. Like Fitz said, it's not fun. We don't try to show up and not play good, and we sure don't try to lose, but it happens, so we turn the page and tomorrow the sun will come up and we'll win the day tomorrow and win about six days in a row and get ready for next Friday."
The NCAA Baseball Tournament field will be announced at noon Monday.
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