It was a record-setting season for the University of Louisville baseball program.
Head coach Dan McDonnell guided his team to a school record 51 wins and their fourth Big East Conference regular season crown in five years. After defeating traditional powers Miami and Oklahoma State in Regional play, the Cardinals swept rival and 2nd-ranked Vanderbilt in Nashville to advance to the program's second ever appearance in the College World Series. Multiple players received post season accolades, including junior Jeff Thompson as the Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year. Highlighted by pitchers Dace Kime and Thompson, both of whom were third round selections, the team had seven players get selected in the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft.
As great as the 2013 season was, the ending will sting for awhile.
With Thompson on the mound, Louisville felt comfortable about the possibility of rebounding from it's 2-0 loss to Indiana on Saturday night. Through the first two innings, the Cardinals ace was in control and the odds of U of L advancing were looking good. However, a 3 run third and an error filled fourth inning that saw seven Oregon State base runners cross the plate crushed all hopes of Louisville staying another day in Omaha.
Facing elimination in Monday's contest against Oregon State, Louisville suffered two error-filled innings, giving up seven unearned runs and fell to the Beavers 11-4 in front of 18,980 at TD Ameritrade Park.
"From our standpoint, you know, speaking specifically of today's game, I'm sure our guys are very disappointed, just didn't play well, didn't play clean there in the third and fourth innings and it got out of hand," said McDonnell. "Unfortunately that happens, especially when you're playing a really good opponent. I know our guys are very disappointed. This is very tough at this moment, but I don't want this game to define them or define their season. It's a special group. Had a special year and I told them just what I told the '07 team: If our season had to end on a loss, I'd always want that loss to be in Omaha."
The Beavers fortunes began in the third when Max Gordon lead off the inning by getting hit by a Thompson pitch. Tyler Smith then drove the next pitch down the left field line for an RBI double to give Oregon State a 1-0 lead. Following a perfectly executed bunt by Andy Peterson, the Cardinals infield struggles began as catcher Kyle Gibson dropped a Michael Conforto foul ball, who drew a walk a few pitches later to load the bases. With one out, Kaven Keyes hit a fielders choice grounder to second baseball Zach Lucas, who attempted to start a double-play, but a throwing error allowed two runs, one unearned, to score.
After struggling to hit the ball against the Hoosiers, the 3-0 lead appeared to effect the Cardinals mentally.
"I don't know if they were carrying over from the other night because the offense hadn't gotten going yet," McDonnell said. "It was almost like, oh no, they scored a run. Being down 3-0 probably felt more than 3-0 in the big picture, because we had gone 11 or 12 innings without getting much going offensively. It probably carried over to the next inning. It's disappointing because you have to overcome those tough innings and we just didn't do there."
The Cardinal miscues continued in the fourth. With two out in the inning and one man on, the Beavers loaded the bases with two more singles, including a 2 RBI hit that was a close play at first that the umpire ruled safe, but replay showed as out. Following a walk from reliever Cody Ege to reload the bases, Kevin Kates reached when shortstop Sutton Whiting overthrew allowing 2 more runs to cross the plate. The Beavers loaded the bases again when Ege hit Ryan Barnes, which prompted McDonnell to make the call to the bullpen for Kyle Funkhouser. Entering the game in a jam, Funkhouser walked the first batter he faced, allowing another run to score. Max Gordon then singled through the left side of the infield to drive in another two runs to finish off the seven run inning.
"It was two bad innings, back-to-back," said McDonnell. "We call it bad baseball and it's hard to have any bad baseball when you are out here in Omaha."
Louisville scored it's first run of the College World Series in the top of the fifth when Kyle Gibson singled to lead off the inning. He advanced to second when Zak Wasserman drew a walk and scored on a single by Lucas.
The Cardinals added another three runs in the seventh when Wasserman and Chittenden drew walks and Engel drove a 2-run double down the left field line. With two, Engel scored off a Ty Young single.
While a stinging ending to an impressive season, McDonnell was proud of his team that embraced the preseason expectations of reaching Omaha.
"It's one thing to have a great year when nobody expects you to have a great year, but I was proud of this group, because the bar was set very high from themselves and from the baseball community and to a degree, we backed it up," said McDonnell.