LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In case you ever wondered how it looks when the University of Louisville baseball team gets all phases of its game going at the same time, just roll the tape from the past weekend. The Cardinals obliterated a very good East Carolina team in two blowout victories to earn their fifth trip to the College World Series.
ECU came into Jim Patterson Stadium having scored 44 runs in four straight wins to capture its regional, then managed only one run and eight hits in two days.
This was Louisville throwing a knockout punch. Sophomore Bobby Miller carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning before giving up a single, but by then the celebration was well underway. School officials had already brought hats and signs bearing the words "Omaha Bound" into the Louisville dugout.
After Michael Kirian threw the final pitch of the 12-0 Louisville victory and Lucas Dunn squeezed the fly ball for the final out, Kirian threw off his hat and threw up his hands.
The Cardinals poured out of the dugout. Michael McAvene, suspended during the regional, emerged from his four-game exile and bolted onto the field, diving in near the ground floor of the dog pile. And on they leapt.
"Not going to lie, I kind of waited a little bit," second baseman Justin Lavey said. "I didn't want to be at the bottom. I told Fitz (Tyler Fitzgerald) before the inning, I was like, 'Hey, is it cool if we hug for a little bit and then jump on the pile?' That was my plan going in, but it was awesome just being with your brothers, who work so hard all year and it's an indescribable feeling."
It was that kind of game. When you can plan out your dog pile strategy, you haven't had to exactly sweat it.
Everybody was hugging Miller. It was his second round of congratulations, after he gave up the hit in the ninth. Louisville coach Dan McDonnell came to the mound and hugged Miller before taking him out. That's not standard procedure. But it was that kind of game.
Miller took a curtain call after going into the dugout, the crowd chanting "Bobby, Bobby!"
"It's hard not to look at the scoreboard and you see no hits up there," Miller said. "But I've just got to give credit to the catcher Henry Davis, Coach (Roger) Williams and the defense for just doing a great job and having my back the whole game."
For ECU coach Cliff Godwin, it was a bitter end for a team that finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in the RPI. That his team didn't get to host a Super Regional ticked him off. That it had to turn around and play at noon Friday after playing two games Monday and traveling to Louisville didn't sit too well, either.
"Louisville played unbelievable baseball for two days," Godwin said. "I felt like, when you push two games together, our guys just ran out of gas. ... You'd think for student-athlete welfare, the NCAA is so concerned about that, we wouldn't have to play the first game on Friday. I guess that's the way it is when you're a non-Power Five school. These guys, in my opinion, earned to be a national seed. Not over Louisville, but they had the fifth RPI in the country, won 42 regular season games, had the 11th non-conference strength of schedule and didn't even sniff a national seed. In my opinion, that's not right.
"I don't care; I'm not being a sore loser, but I'm protecting my guys, and my guys deserve that," he continued. "I was going to say this whether we won the super regional or lost it, but these kids that are next to me have been with me every step of the way. ... I don't have children, but these are my boys right here. I can go to sleep every night when I have kids like this, and I'm so proud of them for what they accomplished this entire year. I can't say enough positive things about them and our program."
Having said all that, Godwin said he thinks Louisville is the real deal, and if it plays the way it played against his team, can win the College World Series.
"Absolutely. Look, they've got a real ace in (Reid) Detmers," he said. "He is a real ace. He's the best pitcher we've seen all season. Miller was very good today, but Detmers, I'm sure he'll be a very high draft pick next year, and so will Miller."
Louisville ripped ECU pitching for 14 hits Saturday, 10 of them from the bottom three spots in the batting order. Drew Campbell went 3-for-5, drove in three runs, scored three runs and was a home run away from hitting for the cycle. Justin Lavey went 3-for-3 with a walk, three RBI and three runs scored. Catcher Henry Davis went 2-for-4 with a couple of RBI, and Zeke Pinkham came in for him and had an RBI single.
"We say it all the time over the years that you can't live or die off the top four or five guys," McDonnell said. "Everyone in the country's got a good four, five, and you feel like if you're going to be a complete team or a scary lineup, then you've got to have some good hitters at the bottom. ... We've just got good players. It makes it hard. It makes it hard on the other pitcher, pitching coach, defense, and yeah, it showed today."
Perhaps lost in all of the hoopla and hugs and dog piles is the defense. Louisville turned three double plays Saturday. In all, it was as complete a two-day performance as McDonnell could have asked for.
"I don't know if it gets more complete than that," McDonnell said. "Two quality starts, with double-digit runs and a big lead, it's again one of the top teams in the country. Fortunately, we jumped on them early."
Now, Louisville looks ahead to Omaha. As the first team to punch its College World Series ticket, the Cardinals will be able to sit back and watch the rest of the Super Regionals. They will meet the winner of the Nashville Super Regional once they get to Omaha, which means either Vanderbilt, which beat Louisville 6-2 during the season, or Duke, which Louisville swept in Durham.
Either way, McDonnell said he's hoping his team can do something special in Omaha, where the program hasn't played its best over the years.
"It's a whole new tournament," he said. " ... It's a big honor to represent the ACC. If anything we learned, we (the ACC) won the national championship in football, we won the national championship in basketball. I'm not making any promises, because we just went 0-2 in one of the best conference tournaments in the country doesn't mean we're not worthy of going to Omaha. You have to give a lot of credit to the ACC for who we are, especially as a baseball program."
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