LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A day of Atlantic Coast Conference baseball that embodied everything the game can offer, crowd silencing home runs, incredible pitching, gutsy base running, tactical coaching, and on the edge of your seat drama. All wrapped up in an emotional roller coaster that would leave fans, players, coaches and media with memories that will not soon be forgotten.
That’s what happened on Saturday, (April 18, 2015) as the Louisville Cardinals (30-9, 19-2 ACC) swept a double header – and the series – against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (22-19, 9-12 ACC) at Jim Patterson Stadium.
After defeating Wake 6-5 in the series opener on Friday, Louisville stood at the gates of their fifth sweep of a conference opponent this season. They would not be denied. Beating wake 10-1 in game one, and finishing the deed with a dramatic 6-5 victory in the finale.
Freshman Brendan McKay (6-1) was – not surprisingly – the story of this contest. The Golden Spikes Award watch list talent put in a masterful day on the mound and at bat. Pitching 6.0 innings with four strike outs, and only allowed two hits and four walks. While giving up just one run.
At the plate he was 1-for-5 with two stolen bases, two runs, and a walk.
Sophomore Nick Solak was huge. He went 3-for-4 with a sac fly, two RBI, two stolen bases, and one run scored.
Sophomore Corey Ray put together an entire series that – for all intents and purposes – was indicative of a Player of the Year performance.
After hitting two home runs in Fridays contest, Ray went 1-for-4 with three stolen bases, one RBI, and one run in the first game of the double dip, and just like the city of Louisville itself – with the start of the Kentucky Derby Festivals Thunder over Louisville scheduled to begin just hours after this game — there would be more fireworks from Ray before this day was in the books.
Junior Danny Rosenbaum did his bidding, as the Lafayette Hill Pa. native registered a 2-for-3 game with a double, two RBI, and a run scored.
Wake was on the south end of a north bound train in this matchup. Never really finding the groove, POY hopeful Will Craig was 1-for-2 with a double (16), and one run scored. Craig struggled against the Cardinal pitching going 2-for-9 over the series. That won’t stick however, a guy with the ability he has will always continue to produce.
Star freshman Stuart Fairchild was held at bay as well, going 0-for-2.
The Cardinals bullpen –- one of the best in the nation — has been a rock all year, and freshman RHP Lincoln Henzman kept that adage true. He pitched 3.0 innings of relief striking out three Deacons, and only allowed one hit and zero runs as he was credited with the save (1).
Wakes Connor Johnstone was charged with the loss, as the Deacon pitching staff combined to allow 12 hits, 10 runs (9 earned), eight walks, and struck out three.
Paul Kirkpatrick, Parker Johnson, and Joe Napolitano all made relief appearances for Wake.
As the series finale unfolded, Louisville’s stalwart pitching began to surface as a major protagonist. Sophomore LHP Josh Rogers (6-1) took a no-decision into the seventh inning, striking out five batters and only allowed three hits and one run.
The events that were to play out in this game however, would leave everyone at the ballpark in mesmerizing awe.
The game was a pitcher’s duel until the bottom of the fifth frame when with two outs, senior Sutton Whiting was hit by a pitch, and moved down to first base. The humans in attendance were about to witness a sequence of events that couldn’t have been scripted any better in a Hollywood movie.
The next batter was Solak, who cracked a double down the left field line scoring Whiting from first. Ray then stepped into the box, and after his performance to this point, was wisely intentionally walked. McKay then singled to right field bringing Solak in to score and pushing Ray to third.
Freshman Devin Hairston then struck out to end the frame with the score 2-0.
The sixth inning saw two more Cardinal scores. Hairston hit an RBI single up the middle scoring freshman Ryan Summers, and then crossed the plate himself further into the frame on a wild pitch. 4-0 Louisville.
The seventh inning was quiet, however, in the top of the eighth inning Wake would come alive.
Sophomore Nate Mondou, singled through the left side, and then advanced to second on the throw, scoring junior Seth Constable and shortstop Drew Freedman. The score now sat 4-2 in favor of the Cards.
The top of the ninth inning was do or die time for Wake. They needed to at least tie the game or it was over.
Standing on the mound, from America’s farmland Downers Grove Ill., awaits sophomore RHP Zack Burdi. They say he’s got the biggest fastball in college baseball, blazing speed 98-100 mph.
The Deacons would put that name to the test.
Burdi struck out the first batter, Fairchild, and then freshman Gavin Sheets singled on a 1-2 pitch. Freshman Bruce Steel was then called in to pinch run for Sheets.
The next batter was sophomore Jonathan Pryor who reached on an error by shortstop Whiting.
With two men on and two outs, redshirt-senior Kevin Jordan got the order to pinch hit for freshman Drew Freedman.
Jordan touched the first pitch from Burdi — a 98 mph rocket -– and sent it to the moon over the right field wall for three RBIs, putting the Deacons up 5-4.
The Wake bench went postal, welcoming Jordan as he touched the plate like the ball had just dropped in Times Square in New York on New Year’s Eve.
Burdi staying poised, not getting too high, not getting too low, struck out redshirt-freshman Zach Piazza to end the devastating frame.
In any contest of any sport, there are essential keys to winning; talent, focus, determination, speed, power, preparation, and good coaching.
The Cardinals have Dan McDonnell, one of the best coaches to ever do it. They also have Ray. This may have been the biggest factor in Louisville’s favor Saturday. Ray is an unbelievable athlete, he knows how to win, and he does the things that coaches can only hope for. When things go wrong, Ray fixes them. When things go right, Ray is in the middle of it. When the Louisville Cardinals win like they did Saturday night, the other team goes home wishing Ray had been on their side.
Whiting led off the Cards half of the inning with a ground out. Then sophomore Logan Taylor got things started with a single to third base. With Ray at bat, Taylor stole second base.
Ray was then intentionally walked for the third time over the course of the series. McKay then singled to load the bases (the crowd is going crazy at this point). Senior Mike White comes in to pinch run for McKay.
Senior Zach Lucas then lined out to short. The crowd pulsating, the dugouts of each team chatting and cheering their respective teammates in the field of play.
With freshman Blake Tiberi at the plate, Craig tosses a wild pitch that sends Taylor home for the score to tie the game 5-5.
Tiberi would then walk.
With two outs, sophomore Will Smith would enter the box with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Before he stepped in however, McDonnell comes out of the dugout to whisper something in his ear. Smith looked at McDonnell and shook his head as if to say yes.
Standing on third base is Ray, the crowd stomping the stands in unison, the press box intensely focused.
Smith digs in, as Craig looks in. Then suddenly before anyone can fathom what they’re looking at, Ray is three-quarters of the way to home plate before Craig even delivers the pitch. Craig gives the delivery and Ray — sliding into home plate Pete Rose style – collides with Piazza as the ball rolls free behind the catchers back.
Ray stole home. Cards win 6-5.
God bless America and baseball.
Ray stealing home.
Post game interviews: