OMAHA–Easily overlooked in Louisville’s home run parade during Sunday’s 12-4 win against Mississippi State was a simple bunt that revealed more about the character of the Cardinals.
After slugging three home runs in Friday’s 15-10 loss to Rice, Louisville homered twice more in the first two innings of Sunday’s elimination game against Mississippi State, helping it build a 5-0 lead heading into the fourth inning. The Cardinals put runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth for second baseman Logan Johnson, who had gone deep twice Friday and crushed a two-run homer over the center-field batter’s eye in the first inning Sunday.
But rather than swing his hot bat, Johnson decided to lay down a sacrifice bunt without the knowledge of coach Dan McDonnell, and he executed it flawlessly. The message was clear: hot bat or no, five-run lead or no, the Cardinals were going to play solid fundamental baseball, and not fall in love with the fool’s gold that can be the long ball.
It worked out awfully nicely for Louisville, as Daniel Burton hit the next pitch over the left-field fence for a three-run homer. So much for small ball.
“Let it be noted, I didn’t give him the bunt sign. I don’t think I’ve given Logan the bunt sign all year,” McDonnell said. “I think that really typifies what we’re all about and what those 10 seniors are all about. Logan did that on his own, just thought it was a good time to do it and he wanted to help the team. Of course, I didn’t know Daniel was going to come up and hit a three-run homer. (Johnson’s) a great team player, and I think the players respected that he did that on his own.”
The Cardinals wound up smashing four home runs in the game, including a pair of gargantuan blasts by red-hot third baseman Chris Dominguez. In the second inning, the redshirt freshman crushed the first pitch he saw from MSU starter Chad Crosswhite (8-5) onto the walkway left of the hitter’s eye for a solo shot. Then in the seventh, Dominguez launched a two-run bomb to left field that nearly hit the video board.
That home run was significant because the Bulldogs had finally shown signs of life the previous inning, knocking Louisville starter Justin Marks (9-2) out of the game with a comebacker that bruised his knee and a three-run homer by Brandon Turner. The wind-blown Turner home run cut the Louisville lead to 8-3, but Dominguez’ answer in the seventh stole the momentum back and provided the Cardinals with some cushion.
“It was a big thing,” Dominguez said of his second homer. “I know in the Rice game, we went up, and they started coming back, and the momentum kind of shifted.”
Dominguez now has three home runs in the CWS and eight in the NCAA tournament, after he hit just seven all season long entering regionals. He has become the centerpiece of an explosive Louisville offense that became the first team since the 2001 Tennessee Volunteers to score in double figures in its first two CWS games. The Cardinals are now batting .403 in the College World Series, which takes some pressure off their pitchers.
Marks, the fourth freshman to start in five CWS games this year, stifled the Bulldogs over the first five innings, allowing just two hits and no runs. After taking a Mitch Moreland chopper off his knee in the sixth, he walked the next batter on four pitches and then surrendered Turner’s three-run homer. That ended his day, but he did what he needed to do, keeping MSU at bay until the Louisville bullpen could take over.
“Justin Marks pitched a tremendous game,” Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said. “We have a good-hitting ballclub, and I was impressed with that freshman.”
Polk knows a little something about what it takes to win in the College World Series–this was his eighth trip–and he saw the ingredients for CWS success in the Cardinals.
“You’ve got to give Louisville credit–my gosh, great contagious hitting early in the ballgame,” Polk said. “They’re a ballclub that’s been hot the last couple of weeks with the bat. They did a great job with Missouri and a great job with Oklahoma State. I’m disappointed, but you just tip your cap to the team that played
“It’s just one of those games where you just couldn’t stop them,” Polk said. “I think they have a chance if they’ve got pitching depth, because if they can hit the ball like they did today and they did in the first game, they’ve got a chance to do well here. Very veteran ballclub.”