After falling behind late in the game, #2 Vanderbilt (57-11) pulled out two runs in the top of the ninth to escape with a 3-2 win over #7 Louisville (51-18).
The win for Vanderbilt advances them to the College World Series finals, where they will face Michigan in a best-of-three series for the national championship. Vanderbilt will be looking for its second national championship in six seasons, while Michigan will aim for its first title since 1962.
The low scoring game was defined by strong efforts by the starting pitchers for both teams, and both being able to capitalize on their opponent’s bullpen. Vanderbilt did jump to a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning, scoring a run despite a 6-4-3 double play occurring on the at-bat by Julian Infante.
While Vanderbilt nursed a 1-0 lead, starter Mason Hickman held the fort down on the mound. Hickman shutout the Cards through six innings of work, only allowing two hits and two walks.
But once Hickman left, Louisville capitalized on a small window of opportunity in the seventh inning. Danny Oriente led off the inning with a double to put the tying run in scoring position. Justin Lavey was able to reach base on a fielder’s choice, but the pinch-running Trey Leonard was tagged out at home to prevent a run scoring. After Henry Davis singled through the left side, a throwing error on Justin Lavey’s steal attempt at third resulted in Lavey scoring the tying run. Lucas Dunn would later put Louisville ahead 2-1 on an RBI single up the middle.
With Louisville taking a 2-1 lead heading into the eighth, their starting pitcher Luke Smith kept firing on all cylinders. Smith retired the side in the eighth with two strikeouts, and came out for the ninth inning to try and close a complete game.
Instead, Vanderbilt got the tying run with one out in the top of the ninth, as Ethan Paul doubled down the right field line to score J.J. Bleday. Luke Smith would see his day end immediately after, with Michael McAvene coming in to try and save the game. Vanderbilt ended up getting two base hits – a single from Philip Clarke and the game-winning RBI double by Pat DeMarco — that gave Vanderbilt the lead.
Louisville did manage to get the tying run in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth after Drew Campbell punched a one-out double, but Vanderbilt’s Tyler Brown retired both Justin Lavey and Henry Davis to close the game out.
Both Louisville and Vanderbilt had six hits. Vandy had one batter with a multi-hit game, coming from Philip Clarke (2-for-4). Both Ethan Paul and Pat DeMarco finished 1-for-4 with a double, with DeMarco’s lone hit being the game-winner in the ninth inning. Mason Hickman delivered six shutout innings on the mound as the Commodores’ starter, his first shutout appearance since March 26th against Lipscomb. Jake Eder earned the win with two innings of work, allowing the two runs Louisville had on three hits. Tyler Brown notched his 17th save of the season with a shutout ninth inning, striking out two of the four batters he faced.
Louisville got major contributions from Drew Campbell once again, as he led all Cardinals batters with a 2-for-3 outing and one double. Through the NCAA Tournament, Campbell hit .454 with three doubles, one triple and nine RBIs, including the walk-off against Mississippi State on Thursday night. Campbell, along with Danny Oriente (1-for-3), had the only doubles for Louisville in the game, with Lucas Dunn (1-for-4) driving in the lone RBI.
Luke Smith was credited with his first loss of the 2019 season, despite another strong start in an elimination game. Smith matched a career high with 8.1 innings pitched and threw a career high ten strikeouts, allowing three earned runs on four hits. In his two appearances on the mound during the NCAA Tournament, Smith went into the ninth inning on both occasions and reached a new high in strikeouts in each game.
For Louisville, their 2019 season is officially over. The Cardinals finished 51-18 with their sixth 50-win season in program history, all under head coach Dan McDonnell. They also placed their highest finish in the program’s history at Omaha, with a 3rd/4th place finish.