LOUISVILLE, KY- This is when you know you’ve made it. I mean, this is how it’s supposed to look and feel. Louisville is headed to their second consecutive College World Series and they did it how the big boys are supposed to do it: quickly and comfortably.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t that comfortable the whole time. Louisville did fight back from two deficits, scoring two runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to give them a 7-4 victory over Kennesaw State, sending them to a second consecutive College World Series. However, Louisville won about as comfortably as you can in a Super Regional and has yet to lose once in this NCAA Tournament. They’ve also only trailed for a total of three innings this tournament as well.
“Nobody’s winning 14-0 games this time of year,” Head Coach Dan McDonnell stated. “It’s a grind,”
I’ve always thought the bigger the moment in the sports, the tougher it is to write about. You’re so focused on using the right words to capture the gravity of the moment. You don’t want to miss a beat. You want to give the moment justice and often times you still feel you fall short of that no matter how much you practice. This is one of those moments.
You can talk about the Cardinals timely hitting. About how each time they faced a deficit, they roared back. Whether it was from a two run homerun from sensational freshmen Nick Solak to regain the lead in the 5th. A player that Jeff Gardner said ‘back should be killing him’ after carrying the Cardinals in the Super Regionals with six RBIs. You could also speak about a two run RBI to extend that lead in the seventh from the Senior Cole Sturgeon. The player that is known by his coach as the ‘best one of the team’.
You can talk about the pitching. About how RHP Anthony Kidston got rattled in the early goings, settled in and put up three consecutive hitless innings that included four strikeouts. Or about how the entire pitch staff has done that more times than you can count this season.
You can even talk about small ball. About Head Coach Dan McDonnell can seemingly push the perfect buttons. A sac bunt that moves that runner into scoring position at the perfect time, like it did for Zack Gibson in the fifth inning.
But what I can’t do is talk about a how team like Louisville Baseball is going to a second straight College World Series. I’ll apologize in advance, but it’s impossible to find the words to doso. A team that, according to Aaron Fitt of BaseballAmerica.com, may be one of the true contenders to win it all. A team that had exactly one tournament appearance six years ago. A team that is now doing what the big boys of College Baseball do – be there each year.
“When we had nine players in the Cape Cod league and Arizona kind of took it to us and went on to win a National Championship. I did go to the Cape and I sit down with that group and I just challenged them,” an emotional Dan McDonnell recounted. “We have to better than an Arizona. With the maturity we have, we should be. Let’s not be a program that gets to Omaha every five or ten years. Let’s be a Florida, Let’s be a South Carolina.”
Louisville has now put themselves in the conversations of programs like that. Now the next step is winning in Omaha – something the Cardinals have failed to do once in two appearances.
There was indeed a celebration Saturday night at Jim Patterson, a huge dogpile at the third baseline that was DH Nick Solak’s first shown that. There should have been. The Cardinals we’re celebrating that they are one of the final eight teams remaining in College Baseball. They should do that, that’s certainly an accomplishment that calls for it. But in the minds of the Louisville Baseball players, Saturday night didn’t serve as a culmination but rather another a chapter in a story that has yet to be finished.
“The expectations for this program are always going to Omaha,” LF Jeff Gardner explained. “I plan on addressing the team this week. We can’t lose sight of what we’re doing. We’re going to Omaha to win a National Championship. I think last year are Super Regional was so emotional. We we’re playing Vanderbilt and hadn’t beat them in forever. We swept them and it was so emotional. I think the attitude is a little bit different with this team in that we’re going to Omaha to take care of business.”
This is the next step. A step that by all accounts Louisville Baseball is ready to take after winning five consecutive postseason games. Their coach, led by tough memories and past experiences, echoes the sentiments of the players.
“I have peace about these games. Sometimes you just gotta stay outta there way, just let them play. I’m sorry to get emotion. These are tears of joy. This is special,” a sobbing Dan McDonnell said in the postgame. “It’s a good feeling. Because I just feel more prepared now. The more we go, I feel like the better job I can as their leader to help them to go there and play, enjoy it and play good baseball.”
Now Louisville is just one of the final eight teams remaining in College Baseball. Ready to make the next step. Fueled by their memories of getting ‘cluttered by the bright lights’ of Omaha in the words of Jeff Gardner. Confident because of the ‘young guys’ that have come up biggest in the most critical of moments according to Senior Cole Sturgeon.
Whether it be Stanford or Vanderbilt that Louisville meets first in Omaha – a determination that will be made tomorrow at 3pm – Louisville will be ready.
Not only will Louisville tell you they’ll be ready, they’ll tell you they expect to win, just like they expect to win them all en route to a National Championship.
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