The rare weekday afternoon game. More kids than usual for a non-weekend affair. Sun high in the summer sky. Business folks sneaking out of the office. Retirees. Second shifters.
Forget digital, this game was a daguerreotype, in sepia. The only thing missing was a couple of old codgers wearing starched shirts, suspenders and straw boaters, arguing over who was better, Double XX or The Georgia Peach?
Heck, there was a half inning when the home team bunted three straight times. Old timey it was, I’m telling you.
Plus the Louisville Cardinals and the Illinois State Redbirds played one as close as their nicknames.
At some point midway through the rather speedy game — there’d been more than a few three up three down frames by then — with the score even at 1-1, I opined to nobody in particular along press row that “a mistake is going to settle this one.”
Sure enough there were gaffes, anyone of which could have been fatal.
In the bottom of the 7th, State’s catcher Nick Zouras dropped an easy pop foul off the bat of hitter Drew Campbell. No harm however, the Cards lead off guy that inning was retired, 5-3.
Colton Johnson’s two out base on balls to Zeke Pinkham proved more troublesome. Pinch runner Trey Leonard pilfered 2d on a wild pitch, while Zach Britton was hitting for Lucas Dunn. Britton stroked a 1-2 fastball to right center for a run scoring single. 2-1 Cardinals.
At which point, several buzzards started circling The Jim. An omen that the Redbirds were dead? Well, not yet.
Jared Poland took the mound for the Cards in the top of the 8th, and gave up a real No No, a lead off walk. Then replacement catcher Henry Davis dropped a pitch, but it wasn’t fatal either, when he still threw out his Redbird counterpart attempting to steal 2d on the play. Energized, Poland got the next two State batters swinging.
Tyler Fitzgerald led off the U of L 8th with a single. He’d been aggressive all weekend, and continued so. He stole 2d. Then stole 3d. Meanwhile Jake Snider worked the count to 3-2 as Illinois State starter Johnson seemed to get wobbly.
Snider, the Regional MOP, then stroked an RBI double increasing Louisville’s lead to 3-1 through 8.
At that juncture, it seemed like Dan McDonnell’s moves had all been deft. He stole a couple scoreless innings at the front end by starting Nick Bennett, who threw Friday evening. Bryan Hoeing then gave the Cards five innings of one hit pitching, surrendering only a single run. Hoeing got somewhat tweedly for a bit, but, like Sunday’s pitching star Luke Smith, he settled.
Bringing in Poland worked for Coach Mac. Pinch running Leonard worked. Pinch hitting Britton worked. Even the bunt/ bunt/ bunt ploy in the bottom of the 5th, the game tied 1-1, made sense, even if it didn’t bring home a run.
Three outs by set up hurler Michael Kirian, subbing in the situation for suspended Michael McAvene, and the Cards could start planning for a visit from Campbell or East Carolina.
Buuuuuut . . . with two down, and a man on, Kirian faced the Redbirds best hitter Joe Aielts, who hit a sinking liner to CF. Trey Leonard dropped what would have been the game sealing out. 3-2. Joe Butler then knotted it at 3, with an RBI single.
But that gaffe wasn’t fatal either.
No reason to go through all the details that led to Alex Binelas walk off, Regional winning single. Other than that U of L benefitted from an overturned upon review out call at 2d. (It was the second such overturn to the Cards ‘ advantage, the first being a missed call by U of L’s favorite umpire Ken Langford at 3d the previous inning.)
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What struck me from the get go was how U of L’s Sunday vibrancy carried over. There was chatter from the Cards’ dugout from pitch one.
Both teams were pumped, obviously, but even when Illinois State came back in the top of the 9th, there seemed an inevitability to Louisville’s victory.
An intestinal fortitude that got lost somewhere late in the regular season, that was nowhere to be seen when U of L dropped three of its first four in the post season, returned.
The proverbial timely hitting. The always important shut down pitching. Both showed up on Sunday and Monday.
The Cardinals were forced to win three in a row in order to host a Super Regional, with the chance to advance to Omaha. And, displaying an exemplary will to win, that’s exactly what they did.
— Seedy K