LOUISVILLE, KY – Kennesaw State came out of the gates with an aggressive approach, but the Cardinals found a way to hold back the Owls. Much like Friday’s 5-3 victory against the Owls, Louisville made another about-face on Saturday and took home a 7-4 win to advance to their second straight College World Series.
The prescription for the Owls on Saturday was to be aggressive, and they certainly filled that prescription right out of the gates. Kal Simmons jumped on the second pitch he saw, ripping it through the gap in left center for a leadoff double. Jacob Bruce showed bunt on the first pitch from Anthony Kidston, connecting and dropping down a sacrifice to move Simmons over to third. Max Pentecost followed and took a 1-1 pitch to left for a base hit, plating Simmons from third for the early 1-0 lead.
With Bo Way at the plate, Pentecost attempted a swipe of second, but was thrown out by Louisville’s Kyle Gibson for the second out of the inning. Nevertheless, the failed attempt still gave credence to Kennesaw State’s doctrine of the day – to be aggressive.
The Owls wore that credo on their sleeve in the bottom of the second, as Chris McGowan jumped on the first pitch and took a fastball off the end of the bat, which took a lucky bounce off the bag at third and allowed the Owls first baseman to advance to second. As you would have it, Brennan Morgan followed and dropped down a sac bunt on the first pitch he saw from Kidston, putting McGowan just 90 feet away from the plate at third.
However, Louisville brought over some of their aggressive play from Friday’s victory and Kidston was able to get both Alex Liquori and Matt Bahnick swinging to get out of the jam and keep the Cardinals within a run of the shared lead. And the Cardinals did their best impression of the Owls over the previous two frames, starting off the top of the third with a base hit from Zach Lucas.
Gibson followed with a first-pitch bunt that slow rolled down the line toward third, staying just fair and allowing the catcher to reach first safely. Cole Sturgeon countered with a bunt of his own, this one a sacrifice that moved both Lucas and Gibson into scoring position. Friday’s big-time performer on offense, Nick Solak, followed and took a 1-0 pitch to center, a sac fly to plate Lucas from third.
Jeff Gardner punched a single to right that fell just in front of Liquori, allowing Gibson to score from second and give the Cardinals the 2-1 lead.
But the Owls had a response and gave it in the bottom half of the frame. Cornell Nixon drew a leadoff walk and Simmons slapped a base hit just over the glove of Lucas at second. Bruce dropped down his second bunt of the game, a perfect roller down the line toward third, loading the bases for Pentecost, who delivered with a double to left center, plating both Nixon and Simmons for the 3-2 lead. A McGowan grounder to short plated Bruce for the third run of the inning.
Travis Bergen appeared to put himself back on track, having retired four straight, but the Owls right-hander looked to be running out of gas in the top of the fifth. Louisville took advantage as Lucas led off with a double and later advanced to third on a sac bunt by Gibson. Sturgeon jumped on the first pitch and sent it through the left side hole to plate Lucas. But it was the next batter that made some noise, as Solak continued his hitting ways by slugging a two-run shot to left to give the Cardinals the 5-4 lead.
However, the Cardinals were not done there. With one out in the top of the sixth, a double-steal by Sutton Whiting and Chris Ray eliminated the double play option, whereas Bergen pitched around Gibson to get to lefty Sturgeon, but the Louisville center fielder made him pay, ripping a single to right to plate a pair of runs to put the Cardinals up 7-4.
On the mound, Kidston was cruising along, fanning five batters between the fourth and his exit in the seventh. Kidston was primarily utilizing a changeup-curveball combo to great effect, changing speeds on his change to keep the Owls lineup off balance.
Bruce led off the seventh with a scorcher off the glove of Kidston, reaching on the infield single. At this point Zack Burdi relieved Kidston and got Pentecost to fly out. Drew Harrington relieved Burdi and surrendered a single to Colin Bennett, putting two runners aboard, necessitating a third pitching change, as Sturgeon came into the game and struck out Brennan Morgan to end the threat.
As for the offense, Louisville could not get anything going against reliever Will Solomon, who retired all 10 batters he faced to end the night, but the Owls offense could do nothing against Sturgeon in the eighth or Nick Burdi in the ninth. Burdi struck out two in the ninth to seal the 7-4 victory and the Louisville Super Regional.
Saturday’s victory marks back-to-back seasons that the Cardinals have won 50 games and advanced to the College World Series, wherein they will face either Stanford or Vanderbilt in the first round at Omaha.