LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- At the outset of its 2019 NCAA Regional debut, Louisville's baseball team looked like the club that flamed out in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament last week, falling behind Illinois-Chicago 3-0 in the first two innings at Jim Patterson Stadium.
But the top-seeded Cardinals (44-15) quickly recovered behind an unlikely power source and starting pitcher Nate Bennett and overtook No. 4 UIC (29-22) 5-3 to advance to Saturday's 4 p.m. game against No. 3 Illinois State (35-24), which edged No. 2 Indiana (36-22) 8-7 in the opener.
Bennett (7-3) surrendered leadoff home runs to Derrick Fitzpatrick and Joshua Figueroa in the first and second innings, along with an RBI infield single. But then he settled down and retired 12 batters in a row before departing with two out in the sixth with a 95-pitch count after issuing a full-count walk.
It was the first win for the junior lefty in a month and his longest stint since going six full innnings in a 14-2 win over NC State on April 13. He missed two weeks near the end of the season with arm fatigue.
"I was just trying to get a bounce-back," said Bennett, who allowed four hits while striking out six and walking two. "After the two home runs, the team still trusted me and I trusted myself. I was bringing energy and I think I've got my confidence back now."
"Guys like to establish their fast ball early and UIC was ready to hit it," U of L coach Dan McDonnell said. "They put some good swings on it. But once Nick settled in and got the curve going, he was tough to hit and it was fun to watch."
McDonnell also had a good time watching his bullpen operate after Bennett left. Bryan Hoeing, Michael Kirian and Micahel McAvene allowed just two hits in 3.1 innings, and McAvene was super impressive in choking off a UIC rally that made things suspenseful in the ninth.
The sophomore lefthander entered the game with runners on second and third and no outs and doused the Flames with an overpowering fast ball that hit 100 mph. McAvene struck out all three batters he faced.
"That guy shut the door on us," UIC coach Mike Dee said. "That was special stuff, really special. I don't think a lot of teams are gonna do much different against him than we did."
McAvene said it was the first time he had been clocked at 100 mph, although throwing in the mid-to-upper-90s isn't unusual for him.
"Honestly, I didn't think I had it in me," McAvene said of hitting the century mark. "It came as a surprise to me, but I'm glad I got to do it. There's nothing better than to do it in a big game like this."
Danny Oriente provided the main spark for the Cards' offense, which had produced just two runs in their two ACC games. The junior outfielder slammed a two-run home run to get the hosts on the board in the second and added another RBI with a sacrifice fly in the fifth for UofL's final run. It was Oriente's first homer of the season and only the second of his career.
After his homer, Zach Britton walked, Zeke Pinkham singled and Britton tied the score when Lucas Dunn's hard grounder went through first baseman Alex Dee's legs. Tyler Fitzgerald scored the go-ahead run in the third when he doubled, then came all the way home on an infield dribbler by Alex Binelas that UIC catcher Ryan Hampe threw wild past second.
"It wasn't easy," McDonnell said. "But it's not about being pretty at this time of year. You have to compete and grind, survive and advance, and that's what we did."