Playing in their first CWS Semifinal game in program history, the #7 Louisville Cardinals (51-18) felt the emotional highs and lows of high stakes baseball, as they seized a late lead from the #2 Vanderbilt Commodores (57-11) only to have that lead taken from them in the ninth inning. The teams traded 2-spots in the final 3 innings after only 1 run total had been plated in the first six, resulting in a 3-2 defeat that saw their season come to an end.
Starting pitcher Luke Smith did a solid job in the opening frames of Battle of the Barrel, part 3. The junior-right hander retired the first six batters he faced on just 16 pitches, but Vanderbilt quickly made some adjustments in the third. A leadoff walk followed by a base hit put runners on the corners with no outs, but he limited the Commodores’ damage by drawing a double play to only allow a run in the jam.
The Parkland College JUCO transfer started cruising again after the third inning Vanderbilt run. Starting with a strikeout of 4th overall 2019 MLB Draft pick JJ Bleday, Smith proceeded to retire ten of the next eleven batters he faced to give him 8 strikeouts through the first 6.0 innings of the game.
Unfortunately, Vanderbilt’s Mason Hickman was also in a zone on the mound. While he only stuck out 3 Cardinals batters in his 6.0 inning start, he only allowed the Cards to collect only 2 base hits and get only 5 total baserunners. Louisville’s best opportunity to plate the equalizer came in the second when they were able to get juniors Drew Campbell and Justin Lavey on base with freshman Henry Davis up to bat. He struck a ball fairly well down the right field line but Vanderbilt’s Julian Infante made a great snag to keep Louisville off the board.
But the Cards still had some late inning magic left in them. With Justin Lavey at second base, he would attempt to steal third and was gifted with a lucky break. The throw from the catcher would sail over the third baseman’s head and allow Lavey to get the must needed equalizer. Trailing him was freshman catcher Henry Davis who was able to advance to second on the errant throw. He would be the one to plate the run that seized the lead, after sophomore outfielder Lucas Dunn sent a ball up the middle to send him home.
Not to be outdone, Vanderbilt had some late inning magic as well. With just 2 outs remaining in the game, Bleday would draw a walk and then be sent home by an Ethan Paul double down the right field line. He was almost thrown out to prevent the tying run, but the cutoff throw from second baseman Justin Lavey was barely off the mark.
While he had been electric all night, Coach Mac would have to end up pulling Luke Smith after he had tossed 121 total pitches. Fireballing righty Michael McAvene took to the mound, but Vandy still kept some momentum going after the change, stringing together a pair of base hits to take the lead heading to the bottom of the ninth. The Cards would get a man on second with just 1 out after a lucky bounce off the base, but their late inning magic had ran out afterwards.
Louisville ends their season with a third place finish in the College World Series.
W: Jake Eder (2-0), L: Luke Smith (6-1), S: Tyler Brown (15)
- 2019 marks the first time that Louisville posts a non-losing record in Omaha (2-2).
- Louisville moves to 4-10 in the College World Series.
- The pitching staff’s 716 strikeouts set a new school record, breaking the 2013 mark of 629.
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