In a game that didn’t have much at stake for either team, the No.1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 10-3 in the Cards’ first game of pool play. Although the Cards managed to come away victorious, it didn’t really mean much in terms of advancing past pool play and onto the semifinals. This was because 12-seed Notre Dame’s loss to 8-seed Florida State the day before had not only mathematically eliminated Notre Dame, but had turned Friday’s Louisville/Florida State game into a de facto survive-and-advance game no matter the outcome of the Louisville/Notre Dame game.
Even with nothing on the line for the Cards, skipper Dan McDonnell opted to go with two-way super star Brendan McKay as his starting pitcher against the Irish. This was most likely due to the fact that it would allow McKay the maximum amount of time to rest in time for a potential championship Sunday start.
The meaningless game did have some benefits for the Cards though. With Colby Fitch still slightly banged up, he would get an extra day of rest as well as allow Zeke Pinkham to get some valuable playing time. It would also allow Dan McDonnell to tinker with the lineup a tad, moving Josh Stowers all the way up to the number two spot. Traditionally batting from the 7 or 8 hole, Stowers was on fire to end the season, and he was rewarded with batting behind leadoff man Logan Taylor.
Louisville would be the first to break through in the game, as they would get on the board in the second inning. Facing one out, Drew Ellis would hit a solo shot over the left-center field wall for his 17th homer of the year. It would also be his second home run in two games played at Louisville Slugger Field this season.
The fireworks would really start flying for both teams in the third inning. Despite getting a quick two outs, a walk by Logan Taylor, single by Josh Stowers and a HBP by Devin Hairston would load the bases for top 3 MLB prospect Brendan McKay. On the very first pitch he saw, McKay would launch the ball into the upper deck seats in right field for his second grand slam of the season. Even after taking a 5-0 lead, the Cards’ momentum would not deter Notre Dame, as they would pick up a couple quick runs off McKay, as well as work him into a bases loaded jam. Fortunately, McKay was able was able to work out of the jam and end the inning with a 5-2 lead.
Once the game progressed into the middle innings, Brendan McKay’s control started to take a bit of a dip. While he did garner 7 strikeouts, in each of his last three innings of work he managed to allow at least two runners on base at once. A wild pitch with runners on the corners in the fifth inning would allow the runner at third to cut the deficit to 5-3 and the runner at first to advance. Fortunately, a great throw by Josh Stowers during the very next at-bat would force the runner from second base out at home to end the inning.
All season long, Louisville has time in and time out been able to make magic happen with two outs, and the seventh inning was no exception. Logan Taylor and Josh Stowers would drive in back-to-back singles, while a throwing error by Notre Dame’s third baseman would allow both of them to advance into scoring position. ACC Defensive Player of the Year Devin Hairston then capitalized on the opportunity to show how he can generate offensive as well. He would send both Taylor and Stowers home on a long single that barely escaped the shortstop to make it a 7-3 game going into the bottom of the seventh.
After logging 119 pitches over 6 innings, Brendan McKay would finally get some sweet relief. Left handed reliever Adam Elliott would give the Cards the fresh arm that they needed, and pitch a 5-pitch seventh inning. McKay’s final line for the night would end up being: 6.0IP, 3R, 7H, 8K, 4BB. It would be the 27th time in his career that he would have an eight strikeout game.
Putting Josh Stowers in the number two spot in the lineup would continue to pay dividends for coach Dan McDonnell. In the ninth inning with Jake Snider and Logan Taylor on the corners, Stowers would drive a ball into the outfield that would be misplayed by the outfielder and wind up being a ground rule double that sent Snider home. Continuing to add insult to injury, Devin Hairston and Drew Ellis would drive in back-to-back sacrifice flies to push the lead to 10-3 by the middle of the ninth inning.
After Adam Elliott’s solid relief innings, Shay Smiddy would be given the duty of closing out the game for the Cards. While it was not a save situation, Smiddy only gave up one hit and struck out one batter in his only inning of work.
Brendan McKay’s six innings of work were just enough to get the decision and the win, and he would move to 9-3 on the season including the postseason. Devin Mann (0-4), Tyler Fitzgerald (0-4) and Zeke Pinkham (0-3) would be the only Cards to go hitless in the game, while new-found 2 hole hitter Josh Stowers (4-5, 1 RBI) would be the only starter to have a multi hit game. Both McKay (1-3, 4 RBI) and Devin Hairston (1-3, 3 RBI) would enjoy multi RBI games as well.
— Louisville Baseball (@UofLBaseball) May 26, 2017