Playing in their eighth consecutive regional final, the #7 Louisville Cardinals (47-16) negated a late rally by the Illinois State Redbirds (36-26), walking off the Missouri Valley Conference regular season champs in the bottom of the ninth after ISU had overcome a 2 run deficit in the top of the inning. Freshman third baseman Alex Binelas delivered the game winning shot with two outs on his first base hit of the game, and it sent Louisville to their sixth Super Regional appearance in seven years.
The Cardinal Nine struck quickly like they had done in every game since Dan McDonnell retooled the lineup just a few games earlier. Outfielder Jake Snider kept his postseason momentum going, as the junior struck a ball in the opening frame that ISU shortstop Aidan Huggins couldn’t field cleanly, sending home junior first baseman Logan Wyatt for the early run. This marked the 31st time this season that Louisville scored in the first inning, improving to 24-7 when doing so.
Although he started in the Louisville Regional opener and threw 95 total pitches, junior left-hander Nick Bennett once again took to the mound to start the game. He unsurprisingly would not last long, going only 2.0 inning deep and striking out a pair of Redbirds. While he did give up a run in the fourth to tie the game up, senior right-hander Bryan Hoeing was extremely efficient afterwards. He would go on to retire the next 10 batters in a row, striking out a total of 6 Redbirds in his 5.0 inning relief outing.
While the pitching staff was getting the job done for Louisville, the offense struggled since plating the opening inning run. From the second through the sixth inning, Louisville tallied 3 base runners but failed to bring any of them home. Sophomore Zach Britton had enough of the offensive woes, and delivered when it mattered most yet again in a pinch hitting role. A single to right field would be enough to bring home pinch running freshman Trey Leonard home all the way from second base, and take a late lead through 7.
A trip to the supers on the line, Coach McDonnell pulled out all the stops to close the game out. Freshman Jared Poland, who hadn’t pitched since May 5th would enter the 8th with fellow freshman Henry Davis joining him at catcher to replace the pinch hitting Britton in the lineup. Poland would strikeout out a pair of batters, with Davis gunning down a runner at second as well. Heading to the bottom of the 8th for their last at-bats, “postseason Jake” struck again. With junior shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald stealing two consecutive bases, all Snider needed was a base hit to send him home, but he wound up doing so on a double down the left field line for his 2nd extra base hit of the game and 3rd base hit overall.
But the Redbirds were not going down without a fight. A fielding error by Trey Leonard would allow them to bring home a run, with ISU third baseman Joe Butler delivering a base hit on their final out with a runner on third to tie the game in the top of the ninth. Michael Kirian, who entered the game in the ninth, was able to draw the 3 out on a strikeout and send the game to the bottom of the ninth tied at 3.
Despite blowing a late lead, Louisville would not falter. Second baseman Justin Lavey would draw a leadoff walk, Trey Leonard would reach base off an attempted bunt with Henry Davis laying down a sacrifice bunt to send them both into scoring position. Preseason All-American Logan Wyatt would be intentionally walked to load the bases, and then the big guns came up to bat. Tyler Fitzgerald would reach on a fielders choice with the runner at home thrown out, but freshman third baseman Alex Binelas would send one up the middle when it mattered most to walk off Illinois State.
Louisville advances to the Super Regional round, where they will host either the #10 East Carolina Pirates or the #3 seeded Campbell Camels this weekend at Jim Patterson Stadium. The schedule for the best-of-three series will me announced later tonight.
W: Michael Kirian (3-1), L: Jacob Gilmore (2-2)
- Junior RHP Luke Smith, senior catcher Zeke Pinkham, junior second baseman Justin Lavey, junior shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald, freshman third baseman Alex Binelas, junior outfielder Jake Snider, junior outfielder Drew Campbell & designated hitter Danny Oriente were named to the 2019 NCAA All-Louisville Regional Team. Jake Snider took home Most Outstanding Player honors.
- The walk off victory was their 4th one of the season, and their first since March 24th vs. Georgia Tech.