One of the requirements that Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell considers essential for success in the College World Series is getting timely hits.
The No. 7 Cardinals (49-17) failed miserably in that department in Sunday's 3-1 opening loss to No. 2 Vanderbilt, stranding 10 runners on base, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and 3-for-16 with runners on base.
That is obviously a shortcoming the Cards have to correct if they hope to break their CWS habit of early exits when they meet Auburn (38-27) in an elimination game Tuesday at 2 p.m. in TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Opportune hits hadn't been a problem for U of L recently. McDonnell's club had averaged 10 runs and 13 hits in the past five games -- wins over Indiana, Illinois State and East Carolina in the regional and super regional.
The heart of the batting order included three of the biggest culprits in the second loss of the season to the Commodores. Logan Wyatt, Tyler Fitzgerald and Alex Binelas were a combined 1-for-11 and left six men on base. Fitzgerald says he didn't see the same team offensively against Vandy that had battered pitchers in the last five games. .
"Those swings weren't Louisville baseball swings," Fitzgerald said. "I think we were tight up there at the plate, trying to do too much. Defensively, I think we were fine, pitching we were fine. Just trying to do too much at the plate. We are better hitters than what we showed."
But Fitzgerald displayed the kind of optimism McDonnell demands of his players. And the coach thinks his team may play better facing elimination, as it did while winning three straight games in the loser’s bracket of the regional
"It's not over yet. Anything could happen," Fitzgerald said. "We could win four games in a row and come out of this. We'll be alright; we just have to hit the ball better."
Easier said than done, of course. However, if anything, Auburn is trying to bounce back from an even more discouraging defeat. Auburn was one out from an upset of No. 7 Mississippi State, taking a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, before collapsing monumentally.
After MSU had scored two runs, Auburn sophomore shortstop Edouard Julien fielded a routine grounder with two out, but his throw sailed over first baseman Rankin Woley's head, allowing the Bulldogs to score the tying run. Two infield singles later, the Tigers' meltdown was complete.
Before his errant throw, Julian was on course to be the game's hero, having accounted for three of Auburn's runs with a record-tying, 429-foot, two-run home run in the second inning and an RBI single in the fourth.
"Tough one tonight," Auburn coach Butch Thompson said afterwards. "I thought we played an unbelievable game. A lot of engagement, a lot of fun. I just thought our guys just really battled, really worked the pitch count. I like how we’re playing. We’re playing our best baseball of the year and did it tonight for eight and two-thirds.”
Thompson added that he thinks his players will be able to put the disappointing defeat behind them and be ready for Louisville.
"We've been through a ton, so I don't think much shocks us," he said. "I know them man by man and what makes them go, and we'll be back. Of course were're hurt, but at the same time who knows what'll happen Tuesday.
Sophomore righthander Bobby Miller (7-1, 3.91) will make his first start for U of L since no-hitting East Carolina for eight innings in a 12-0 win in the Super Regional final on June 8. He has a 13-2 career record.
The winner of Tuesday's game will meet the Vanderbilt-Mississippi winner at 9 p.m. Thursday. The loser, of course, will go home.
NOTE--Julian's 429-foot homer over the right field wall tied the record for TD Ameritrade set by Florida's Pete Alonso in 2015 against Virginia. Former UofL star Brendan McKay holds the No. 2 spot with a 428-foot blast in a 4-3 loss to TCU in 2017 in an elimination game.
It was the final collegiate game for McKay, a two-way player as a pitcher/first baseman who was drafted fourth overall by the Tampa Bay Rays and currently plays for the Triple-A Durham Bulls.
BELLARMINE MOVE TO D-I EXPECTED
Bellarmine University has scheduled a news conference for 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, where it is expected to announce that it is moving its athletics team from NCAA Division II to Division I and an affiliation with the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The school has been studying the move for a number of months, and the school's advisory to the media Monday described the purpose of the press conference as "a significant announcement about Bellarmine University and its athletics program."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.