NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Louisville’s phenomenal year in sports will end with its baseball team making a trip to the College World Series.
The Cardinals advanced Sunday with a 2-1 win to sweep No. 2 overall seed Vanderbilt in a NCAA super regional. Louisville heads to its second College World Series and adds to a season of accomplishment for the school on the heels of a men’s basketball national championship, a women’s basketball national runner-up and a Sugar Bowl victory.
“You become a product of your society and fortunately we’ve got a lot of success going on that campus,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “Credit to our kids for doing their part. It is a great university and a great sports city.”
Catcher Kyle Gibson squeezed the final strike tight before spiking the ball and pitcher Cody Ege slung his glove into the air as a dog pile ensued on the mound. Louisville (51-12) continued its unbeaten streak in the postseason, winning all five regional and super regional games.
The Cardinals set a program record for single-season wins and are going to the CWS and Omaha, Neb., for the first time since 2007.
“Going into the game I was like, ‘We’re one win away from going to Omaha,’” left fielder Coco Johnson said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet with me. I’m excited, but later tonight when I’m sleeping in bed it will hit me. And I’ll be 10 times happier than I am now.”
Ege worked through an eventful ninth to pick up his first career save.
The left-handed specialist relieved closer Nick Burdi with one runner on and one out. Burdi allowed a single to pinch-hitter John Norwood one pitch after Vanderbilt hitting coach Travis Jewett asked the umpires to check for pine tar on Burdi’s shoulder. Corbin said Icy Hot cream had stained Burdi’s uniform.
McDonnell then chose to bring in Ege, who hadn’t allowed a run in 14 straight innings, to match up with left-handed hitter and Southeastern Conference player of the year Tony Kemp. Ege got a fly out to center on a 3-2 count. He then struck out Mike Yastrzemski swinging on a 2-2 breaking ball to end the game.
“Those who know me well, know how much I respect Vanderbilt and (coach) Tim Corbin, the coaching staff and their players,” McDonnell said. “This is three times in the last five years we’ve had to battle (in the postseason). Hopefully the NCAA will split us up one day maybe we can both go to Omaha.”
With Big East Conference pitcher of the year Jeff Thompson on the mound, Louisville made two early runs stand up. In seven innings, Thompson (11-1) allowed just one run on three hits, struck out nine and threw 124 pitches.
Two days after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the second round, the 6-foot-6 right-hander left runners on in four innings, including getting out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the second.
“He was always a pitch away from getting himself in trouble but he was always a pitch away from getting himself back in order again,” Corbin said. “He was composed. His age and experiences helped him to do that. He did a very nice job of containing us.”
Vanderbilt (54-12) squandered big innings twice. In the second inning, the Commodores loaded the bases with one out. But Spencer Navin looked at strike three and Jack Lupo popped up to second on the first pitch, spoiling a chance to take the lead.
Thompson settled in to retire 10 of the next 11 batters. With two outs in the fifth, Tony Kemp singled to left field and Xavier Turner drew a walk. But Thompson got out of the jam by getting Yastrzemski, the grandson of the Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, to swing at ball four, a 93 mph fastball up and in.
The Commodores had trouble laying off Thompson’s fastball, which reached 96 mph, even when the pitch sailed high out of the strike zone.
“I wasn’t really even trying to elevate (the fastball),” Thompson said. “I didn’t have very good control of my fastball today. But thankfully I was able to get some outs and get some weak hit balls and get through it.”
Louisville jumped in front with two runs in the second. Zak Wasserman drove in Jeff Gardner with a single through the right side as Gibson stopped to let the baseball pass through. Gibson later scored on Sutton Whiting’s single past the second base bag.
Vanderbilt starter Tyler Beede lasted just 2 2-3 innings, his shortest outing of the season. The nation’s leader in wins suffered his first loss, falling to 14-1 in 17 starts. The right-hander allowed five hits, walked three and exited the third inning with the bases loaded.
Freshman Carson Fulmer took over and induced Gibson into an inning-ending groundout on the first pitch. Fulmer allowed two hits in 5 1-3 scoreless innings.
Vanderbilt freshman Zander Wiel provided the only extra-base hit of the series in the sixth, hitting his fifth home run of the season to trim the deficit to 2-1.
“My concern was whether it was going to be fair or foul,” Wiel said. “I was hoping it would get a little something sparked. But the old saying goes solo home runs won’t hurt you.”
Vanderbilt stranded 11 runners for the second straight game and squandered chances to extend the season in hopes of a second trip to the CWS in three years.
The Commodores set an SEC record with 26 league wins en route to a regular-season championship. They had lost two games in a row just twice all season. Louisville was the first team to defeat Vanderbilt twice.
“I want to congratulate Louisville — I think you have to,” Corbin said. “They did what no other team has done to Vanderbilt all year and that is come and beat them twice. That is a tall, tall task.”