When ESPN was negotiating its contract with the NCAA for coverage of college baseball’s revised playoff format, network officials put a premium on the Super Regional match-ups for one reason – the intense passion teams showed for the right to advance to the College World Series. If Louisville’s unforgettable, amazing and stirring 20-2 victory over Oklahoma State on Sunday is typical, ESPN’s instincts were right on target.
“When I was on the baseball committee, the network made it clear they really wanted to emphasize the Super Regionals,” said University of Louisville vice president for athletics Tom Jurich. “In these two-out-of-three series, every team is just a heartbeat away from going on to the World Series in Omaha. Fans are unbelievably enthusiastic, players go all out and the entire atmosphere at virtually every site is electric. “
That perfectly describes the setting for U of L’s three games with traditional baseball powerhouse Oklahoma State this past weekend. Fans produced three consecutive record crowds of more than 4,000, both teams provided dramatic performances and the stadium rocked with high-decibel chants and cheers never before heard in Jim Patterson Stadium.
Now, Louisville (46-22) is making plans for Omaha and a meeting with the No. 2 overall seed Rice (51-12) Friday at 7 p.m. EDT (ESPN2).
A free city-sponsored send-off celebration is tentatively planned for early Tuesday evening (June 12, 4:30 p.m.) at Fourth Street Live! in downtown Louisville. Then the Cards will likely travel west on Wednesday, practice in Omaha on Thursday, before beginning play in the eight-team, double-elimination event on Friday. The entire tournament is slated for June 15 through June 24 or 25 (if necessary).
“This is going to be a once-in-a lifetime experience for our players,” said McDonnell who is in his first year as a head coach and his first season at U of L. “This is also a great thing for our athletic program, our university and our entire community.”
The Cards were surprised when the national committee chose U of L to host the event, but they made the most of hosting the NCAA showdown for the first time. Clearly, Jurich’s connections with the Baseball Committee paid off, giving the road-weary Cards a break by allowing them to stay home after traveling to Cincinnati for three days to close the regular season, to New York for the Big East Tournament, then to Missouri for five games in the NCAA first round of play.
Perennial World Series contestant Oklahoma State had hoped to host the Super Regional, but a site change probably would have made little difference in the final outcome.
After all, in their two wins over the Cowboys (9-0, 20-2), the Cardinals out-hit OSU 34 to 13. In the end, it was Louisville’s superior pitching depth that prevailed. Overall, Coach McDonnell and the Cards used just nine pitchers in three games, while OSU was forced to use 17 hurlers in the series, including eight in Sunday’s defeat alone.
As has been customary this record-setting season, several area players delivered major roles as U of L closed out the series by taking a 7-1 lead after three innings, then coasted to the lop-sided triumph. First baseman Daniel Burton (New Albany, Ind.) had two hits and an RBI, and he and scored twice against the Cowboys. Left fielder Isaiah Howes (Pleasure Ridge Park) added three hits and six RBI and scored three times. He blasted a grand slam homer in the eighth inning expanding the lead to 20-2. Also, second baseman Logan Johnson (Owensboro) delivered three hits, a walk and an RBI while scoring four runs.
Left-handed pitcher Skylar Meade (Louisville Ballard) entered the final game in the fourth inning to halt an OSU rally. He gave up just one hit, one walk and no runs in 1.2 innings of action while striking out two Cowboys.
TICKET INFO: A limited number of tickets are available for the College World Series. Phone orders for tickets, priced at $18 each, can be made beginning Monday, June 11 at 9 a.m. by calling (502) 852-5151 or (502) 852-5863. Tickets orders can be placed immediately by downloading a ticket order form from the U of L website at www.uoflsports.com. Cardinal Athletic Fund members who place their orders by 5 p.m. on Monday, June 11 will receive priority status. Visa or MasterCard will be accepted for payment with all phone and fax orders. Ticket distribution for each U of L game at the College World Series will take place two hours prior to the first game of each session at the Rosenblatt Stadium ticket office. Tickets will be sold for only the U of L games. College World Series all-session tickets are not available.
NOTE: Daily columnist Ron Steiner also appears on the Red & Blue Review, a weekly statewide TV sports show (Insight Ch. 2), is published weekly in the Voice-Tribune and is a guest each Friday (5:45 p.m.) on the Cardinal Insider radio program (KRDS, 790AM). He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].