Let’s be clear from the start.
Dan McDonnell has won more games as a head college baseball coach than I have.
My victory total in that position stands at 0.
McDonnell has 598. which is not only 598 more than me, but more than any other coach or school in the entire sport since he took charge at U of L in 2007.
Which is to say, he knows what he’s doing. Duh. Obviously. While all I’ve got is a keyboard to type out second guesses.
When, as he is wont to do, he didn’t start ace Reid Detmers in the regional opener at The Jim against the Illinois Chicago Flames, I was curious. Sure, the Cards figured to take care of the Horizon League visitors from the Windy City. But nothing’s a given. And winning the opener in the tourney is a big plus.
So, I and other Cardinal fans were not amused when Nick Bennett gave up a lead off tater to start his stint, then another to the first batter in the 2d, both over the exact spot in rightish center over Mark Jurich’s photo. And the Flames tallied another run and Bennett and the Cards were shakily behind 0-3 before the Louisville’s second chance at the plate.
I was of course questioning McDonnell’s strategy. Lack of expertise be damned, it’s what I do.
At which point, I texted my best baseball pal Harry, complaining, “Start your ace for heaven’s sake.”
McDonnell’s wisdom and my stupititude then came to the fore.
Logan Wyatt drew a base on balls to start the Cards’ half of the 2d. Danny Oriente plated the two of them after his long ball cleared the center field fence. Zeke Pinkham singled, and the Cards knotted it at 3 when Lucas Dunn hit a cannon shot down the RF line.
Pumped — to say the least — and relieved with the Cards back in it, Bennett Ked out the side in the top of the 3d. The Cardinals took the lead for good with a score in the bottom half.
Thanks to some seriously aggressive base running by Logan Wyatt, U of L added another score in the bottom of the 5th. Meanwhile Nick Bennett — Did I mention what a savvy move it was for Coach McDonnell to start his #2 guy and and save his ace for Illinois State on Saturday? — doused 12 Flames in a row before being pulled after giving up a walk in the top of the 6th.
Bryan Hoeing was shut down in relief. So too set up guy Michael Kirian in the 8th, but he was pulled after surrendering a lead off base on balls — never good — and a double in the top half of the 9th.
No problemico. Closer Michael McAvene wasn’t bothered in the least by the runners on 2d and third and the reality that none were out.
It took him 12 pitches to close out Illinois Chicago. Alex Dee went down on a nasty curve. Sean Dee on a 99 mph heater. Derrick Patrick fanned on McAvene’s last bullet, a 100 mph that’s the ball game swinging strike.
Louisville 5, Illinois Chicago 3.
* * * * *
There was a Southwest airplane flyover during the national anthem.
A total coincidence I’m sure. But the plane was headed NW toward Omaha.
Just sayin’. An omen? Let’s hope.
Illinois Chicago’s most famous baseball alum is long time big leaguer Curtis Granderson. Who gave the school a cool $5 mill as seed money for a new ballyard.
Next up: Louisville Cardinals vs Illinois State Redbirds in the winner’s bracket.
— Seedy K