LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Good pitching, they always say, beats good hitting. Unfortunately for the University of Louisville baseball team, nothing in the sport is absolute.
Reid Detmers and Shay Smiddy combined to hold Illinois State to three hits and while Detmers did give up four earned runs, it should’ve been enough. It wasn’t. The Cardinal bats again went into sleep mode, and as a result, they saw a 16-game home winning streak in NCAA Regional play come to an end, and will play with their backs to the wall after a 4-2 Illinois State victory at Jim Patterson Stadium.
The Redbirds got the first complete game of the season from Matt Walker, a junior lefthander who came into the game with a 4-8 record and a 5.11 ERA. But the Cardinals, who have strugged against lefties lately, could not figure him out.
They managed only three singles through the game’s first five innings, scored twice in the sixth but hit into an inning-ending double play, and went hitless in the final three innings after falling behind.
Their deficit was only two runs late, but it seemed like 10. Even after getting a baserunner when Lucas Dunn drew his second walk of the game, a hard-luck line-out to first enabled ISU to double him up and the inning was over.
The loss means Louisville will have to win twice on Sunday – at noon against Indiana and at 6 against Illinois State, to force a winner-take-all game on Monday. It’s a tall talk, but McDonnell wanted his team – and everyone else – to remain upbeat.
“The good news is our season’s not over,” McDonnell told reporters after the game. “Let’s not act like this is a morgue here. I’ll just throw that warning out there. We’ve still got life. We’re still going to be ready to play good baseball tomorrow. So if you’re professional and you’re tough, you move on.”
All three lllinois State hits were doubles – and all three came win runners on base. The Redbirds scored a run in the fourth on a Joe Aelitis double after Jordan Libman had walked.
Louisville answered with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth. A base hit by Justin Lavey, a walk by Dunn and another hit by Jake Snider loaded the bases. Tyler Fitzgerald brought one run home with a ground ball and Logan Wyatt singled home another, but an Alex Binelas line drive to first enabled ISU to double up Wyatt and that ended the inning.
And Louisville couldn’t threaten again.
ISU followed with three runs in its half of the sixth. Detmers hit the first batter of the inning, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a Libman single. What should’ve been a double-play ball came up just short for the next batter, and after a walk, a pinch-hit double by Jeremy Gaines brought home two runs.
“Obviously if we make that (double) play, it could be a different outcome,” McDonnell said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve still got to do more offensively. Reid pitched well enough to win. He gives up three hits with 11 strikeouts. If we score eight runs, then everybody’s saying he pitched great. But we just gave up more than we scored.”
Louisville players were at a bit of a loss to describe what made Walker so tough. All of them said he had command of all his pitches. ISU coach Steve Holm said he was getting his slider over in the mid-80s, “and that’s pretty rare for college pitching.”
McDonnell said whatever you call it, it was confounding his hitters.
“His slider, cutter, just a ball that was mid-80s seemed to give us trouble in the ACC Tournament as well,” he said. “We saw those two lefties that could really pitch. He didn’t throw a ton of fastballs, just enough to sneak it in there. It was just a lot of, he’ll tell you what he calls it, but our hitters had a tough time with it and our charter had a tough time with it, asking what is that 84 mph ball? Each hitter would come back and say something a little different, a cutter, a slider, taking something off the fastball. The key was he only walked two guys. We had our chance that bases loaded inning, bases loaded, nobody out, 3-4-5, and come away with only two runs. You wish you could’ve had a ball in the gap, but this is not slow-pitch softball. It’s not as easy as you want it to be.”
The problem for Louisville at the plate in general could well be one of patience. McDonnell seemed to indicate that he needs his team to relax a bit when it returns to play on Sunday.
“Just not to press,” he said when asked what advice he might have for his hitters. “It’s a funny game. Sometimes you can want it too bad, too much, try too hard. And that balance of confidence, looseness and freedom in your swing. And you line out into a couple of double plays. . . . Sometimes you just need one guy to get it going. They see one guy get it going and it’s contagious.”
Now Louisville finds itself up against a familiar foe. The Cardinals and Hoosiers played in mid-May in Bloomington, with Louisville winning 8-7 in 12 innings.
In the outfield after the game, McDonnell urged his players to lift each other up and show up Sunday with the mindset of having fun.
“They’re disappointed,” McDonnell said. “It’s supposed to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, something’s wrong. It’s my job to encourage them and lift them up and get them to turn the page and be professional. I reminded them that they’re a special group. . . . We’ll bounce back. The sun will come up tomorrow, I think.”
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