OMAHA, Neb. (WBKO) --- The 2019 season came to a close for the Louisville baseball team on Friday night with a 3-2 loss to Vanderbilt in the NCAA College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
The Cardinals finish the year with a 51-18 overall record, tied for the second-most victories in program history. UofL made its deepest run into the postseason in program history, winning a pair of games in Omaha and finishing as one of the last four teams in the country remaining.
“I think your hope as a coach is that the kids buy in,” head coach Dan McDonnell said. “You work so hard the summer and the fall and the winter months, and a lot of things that we do in our program is for the postseason.
“I know coaches get a lot of credit, but the kids have to buy in. At the end of the day, talented or not, they have to buy in and they have to be able to execute and go out there and believe, and they did that. For them, I'm super proud.”
As was the case in the College World Series opener between the two teams, Friday’s contest was tight throughout.
Luke Smith retired the first six Commodores in order to put a pair of zeros on the board before running into some early trouble in the third. Vanderbilt (57-11) used a leadoff walk and single to put runners on the corners with nobody out, but Smith limited the damage to just one run by inducing a double play and a strikeout to get out of the inning.
Both starting pitchers stayed in their groove through the middle innings, with the game still at 1-0 heading into the seventh inning with each team amounting just two hits.
Louisville’s breakthrough finally came in the bottom of the seventh. Danny Oriente greeted the relief pitcher with a double up against the base of the right-centerfield wall and Drew Campbell sacrificed pinch-runner Trey Leonard to third.
The Commodores brought the infield in with Justin Lavey at the plate, who rolled a groundball on the backhand side of shortstop. Leonard ran on contact, but a strong throw to the plate cut him down for the second out of the inning.
Henry Davis kept the inning alive though, singling through the left side before the Cardinals made a break on the basepaths. Lavey took off for third during the next at bat, swiping the base and the throw from the catcher sailed into left field allowing the junior to score the tying run. Lucas Dunn then laced a ball back through the middle that deflected off the pitcher’s glove and into left field, bringing Davis to the plate and pushing the Cardinals in front 2-1.
Both teams went in order in the eighth, bringing Louisville just three outs away from forcing the if-necessary game on Saturday. Smith went back to the mound for the ninth and retired the leadoff hitter on a groundball to shortstop.
A one-out walk put the tying run on base and a double into the right field corner brought the runner home from first to knot the game up at two. The Cardinals turned to Michael McAvene to try and escape the inning with the game still tied, but Vanderbilt blooped a single into shallow right-center to put runners on the corners and chopped a ball down the third base line that gave the Commodores the lead.
Drew Campbell, Thursday night’s ninth inning hero, gave the Cardinals hope in the bottom half of the frame as he grounded a ball the bounced off the first base bag and down the right field line for a one-out double. However, the Cardinals were unable to advance him from there as a strikeout and pop up brought the game to a close.
Smith (6-1) was hit with the loss, despite the outstanding performance. The junior matched the Louisville postseason record with 8.1 innings pitched, a record he set against Illinois State during the NCAA Louisville Regional. Smith allowed three runs on four hits and struck out a career-best 10 hitters on Friday.
Campbell continued his strong postseason play with a 2-for-3 night at the plate. The junior was 6-for-13 (.462) at the College World Series and 15-for-33 (.455) during the entire NCAA Tournament.