LOUISVILLE, KY – In the face of missed scoring opportunities, what looked like a possible defeat at the hands of Kennesaw State heading into the bottom of the eighth quickly made an about-face as the Cardinals mounted a three-run go-ahead rally to take the 5-3 lead and eventual victory to open the Louisville Super Regional.
Missed opportunities defined the Louisville offense early in the going, starting in the bottom of the first. Kyle Gibson led off the inning with a single to left and later advanced to third on a Cole Sturgeon sacrifice and Nick Solak groundout. Jeff Gardner would draw a walk to put runners on the corners, but Alex Chittenden grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Corey Ray led off the second with a single and later advanced to third, but a Zach Lucas fly out ended that effort. The Cardinals were able to break through in the third on an RBI single from Solak to plate Gibson from second, but their scoring issues continued in the fourth as Gibson grounded into an inning ending fielder’s choice with the bases loaded. To add insult to injury, the Cardinals struck again in the fifth and loaded the bases, but a pitching change that brought in reliever Will Solomon proved to be the dagger, as the Owls southpaw struck out Ray to end the threat.
All the while, Cardinals starter Kyle Funkhouser turned in a solid outing, working seven innings of three-run ball on three hits, fanning seven and surrendering five free passes. His command wavered in the fourth and fifth, but overall he kept the Owls lineup in check despite the lack of run support from the Louisville offense.
Funkhouser was cruising along early, pounding the zone with his low-90s fastball and carving up a talented Owls lineup, as he sat down nine straight to open the game. But his command got the best of him in the top of the fourth, as he surrendered a pair of walks to open the inning. After a Bo Way single loaded the bases, the Owls would score on back-to-back plays to take the 2-1 lead.
After Cornell Nixon led off the fifth with a walk, the Owls second baseman later advanced to third on a wild pitch by Funkhouser and would score on an errant throw from Gibson behind the plate. After surrendering a walk to Max Pentecost, Funkhouser proceeded to retire six of seven batters before departing after the seventh inning.
It was at this time that the Cardinals started to build some momentum, as Chittenden singled home Solak from second to bring Louisville within a single run of the lead. Building on that momentum, the Cardinals took charge in the bottom of the eighth, as Gibson commenced the rally with a bunt single to plate Grant Kay from third. With the bases juiced, Solak approached the plate and ripped a two-run double to deep right center, plating both Zach Lucas and Gibson for the go-ahead 5-3 lead.
Nick Burdi entered the ninth and certainly did his job. Burdi struck out both Brennan Morgan and Alex Liquori to open the inning and after surrendering a base hit up the middle to Colin Bennett, he got Chris Erwin to pop out to third to end the game and seal the 5-3 victory for the Cardinals.
Game 2 of the Louisville Super Regional will take place tomorrow evening at 7:00 p.m. (EST), as the Cardinals will try to punch their third ticket to Omaha in program history.