Another year, another brutal way for the Cardinal Nine’s season to end. After trailing 4-0 early, the Cardinals rally ended one run short, as TCU eliminated the Cardinals 4-3 on Thursday night in Omaha.
The loss eliminates Louisville (53-12) from the College World Series, matching their highest finish in the College World Series (5th/6th, 2007). TCU (49-17) will advance to face Florida tomorrow night, needing two wins against the Gators to advance to the Finals next week.
It was a game marred with a lot of controversy, with Louisville losing nearly every 50/50 call at the plate. The first came in a four-run second inning, where Stowers’ throw to home was not on time, allowing TCU to stay-alive with two outs and ultimately deliver the deciding runs.
The second thwarted U of L’s rally in the eighth inning. When Colby Fitch delivered a lead-off single in the inning, Ryan Summers came on to pinch-run. He was ruled out attempting to steal second base, but the replay almost seemingly confirmed he was safe. The call resulted in Brendan McKay striking out and ending the inning.
Head coach Dan McDonnell took exception to the call and was ejected for the first time since 2010. Despite the heated exchange, McDonnell was adamant that he won’t blame the umpires for the disputed calls.
“I fought for my guy,” McDonnell said. “Knowing the point in the game and how valuable that base was. But I’m never gonna stand behind the camera and blame an umpire. That’s not the reason we lost. I don’t know if I should have been thrown out, but that’s not my call to make … A lot of times you just read the body language of your guys, and you want to stick up for them.”
McDonnell’s sentiments were echoed through the players, as well. “Yeah, it’s obviously tough,” Brendan McKay said. “It’s the competitor in every athlete, you see a play that’s bang-bang and you obviously want it in your favor. I mean, there’s no robotic strike zone or sensors for the baseball and the glove and foot for touching the base or anything like that … you can’t fault anybody for that.”
Controversy aside, TCU rode a four-run second inning to victory. Nick Bennett, who earned his first start since the Regional round, had a perfect first inning and then got the first two batters out in the second.
After that, Bennett fell behind the count with two outs and never recovered. An RBI double from Connor Wanhanen gave TCU an early run, followed by a Ryan Merrill two-RBI double to push the lead to 3-0. Wanhanen narrowly made it home to beat the tag, but the subsequent review was unable to overturn the call. Austen Wade added an RBI single, but was tagged out trying to reach second to end the inning.
Wanhanen was the only TCU batter with multiple hits, while Ryan Merrill had the two-RBI that provided the deciding runs for the Horned Frogs. Austen Wade, Zach Humphreys, Cam Warner, Elliott Barzilli and Merrill were the only other TCU batters with hits.
Nick Lodolo, who made an appearance as a reliever in Sunday’s loss to Florida, got the nod as their starter. Lodolo finished with three earned runs on five hits, two of which came on lead-off home runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Sean Wymer was credited with the win, only allowing two hits while striking out five in the final 4.1 innings.
On Louisville’s end, Bennett’s day was over before the second inning ended. His loss marked the first in his brief career, allowing all four of TCU’s runs on three hits and two strikeouts. Despite the early deficit, Wolf, Sam Bordner and Lincoln Henzman combined for 6.1 shutout innings and only allowed four hits with two walks.
“I thought they (Wolf, Bordner, Henzman) were outstanding,” pitching coach Roger Williams said. “Those guys probably don’t get enough credit at times. And I guess we as coaches really appreciate that group’s probably been the backbone of a lot of success we’ve had this year.”
Louisville’s usually stout bullpen was one of the main reasons for their success. The bullpen finished 23-1 on the season, and closer Lincoln Henzman never blew a save in 2017.
McDonnell made dramatic changes in the batting lineup, moving Taylor from the 1-hole all the way to the eight spot and Mann from third to seventh. Josh Stowers, who started as the leadoff hitter for the first time since April 23rd, made the most of his opportunity. He landed a soft RBI single to left field in the third to get the Cardinals on the board.
Louisville’s next two innings would feature back-to-back leadoff home runs. McKay would lead off the fourth with his 18th home run of the season to right-center, while Logan Taylor blasted one to left field in the fifth. U of L was fired up after seeing the speedy senior launch his first home run of the season, but cooled off after Sean Wymer entered the game.
Wymer shut out the Cardinals in the final 4.1 innings, but U of L had opportunities to get the runs they desperately needed. Summers was ruled out in the eighth inning attempting to steal second, with the momentum parlaying into McKay’s strikeout that ended the inning. Devin Mann scored a two-out single in the ninth, but was for naught when Taylor grounded out to end the game.
Stowers lead all Cardinals with two hits, including a one-out double in the fifth. Devin Mann also had two hits on the day, while McKay and Taylor had U of L’s only two home runs.
For Louisville, it was a third straight season with an agonizing end to it. 2015 saw the Cardinals lose the series on a controversial home-run against Cal State Fullerton, while 2016 saw U of L lose the series on a walk-off grand slam.
“You try not to evaluate every pitch or play that happens, and you wanna recollect on the season and all the success and the joy these guys brought us,” McDonnell said. “I’ve had so much fun with this group, and I’m really proud of them.”
2017 may have been the latest brutal end to a successful season. But Dan McDonnell believes it was still a great season. After all, Louisville made their fourth trip to Omaha, earned their first number one ranking and won more games than any team in school history.
“We lost a few years (ago) on a controversial home run, and I never lost sleep blaming an umpire for that,” McDonnell said. “I still remember opportunities we missed that night like it was last night. So tonight, you just live with a couple of things you could have done better … I’m big on being accountable, and it starts with me. And if anything, it just motivates me to want to be a better coach, to work harder, and get ready for next year.”