Louisville Holds Off Auburn, Keeps Fighting In Omaha

Image credit: Louisville shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald (Photo by Matt Gdowski, Getty Images)

OMAHA — When Louisville on Tuesday night learned that its elimination game against Auburn at the College World Series, which had been in rain delay for five hours, would be suspended until Wednesday, coach Dan McDonnell gathered his team for a meeting. He had an optimistic spin on the weather for the Cardinals.

McDonnell explained that Louisville, which was winning 4-1 after four innings, could either have finished the game Tuesday and, had it won, practiced Wednesday. Or they could finish the game Wednesday.

“Well, obviously, the kids want to play the game,” McDonnell said. “I love to practice, and they know that. I just love to practice because it’s usually easier to win a practice. Bu the kids would much rather play the game.”

The rain that lingered in Omaha throughout Tuesday cleared out and gave way to sunshine Wednesday morning. Louisville got to play the game, and while McDonnell’s point about how hard it is to win a game versus a practice was proven as Auburn rallied late, the Cardinals held off the Tigers for a 5-3 victory to stay alive in the CWS.

Louisville fell into the losers’ bracket with a 3-1 loss to Vanderbilt on Sunday and its path to the finals was made more difficult by Tuesday’s suspension. The Cardinals will now have to win games on four consecutive days to advance, beginning with an elimination game Thursday night against either Mississippi State.

But it is a challenge the Cardinals will relish. They fought through the losers’ bracket in the Louisville Regional, winning three straight games to advance to super regionals and understand what they need to do this week.

On both Tuesday and Wednesday, they brought energy to the start of game—on Tuesday in the form of Tyler Fitzgerald’s first inning home run and on Wednesday with lefthander Adam Elliott starting the day with three strikeouts in two scoreless innings.

“It’s something I wanted to do as a three-hole hitter, is get our lineup started early and something I wasn’t able to do the game before,” Fitzgerald said. “So just to get the momentum in our favor, top of the first inning, was huge for us and set the tone early on.”

“I was just trying to throw strikes, keep the ball in the zone and just kind of let our defense work and kind of get the game going,” Elliott said.

After a strong start, Louisville had to hold off a late Auburn rally. The Tigers have been tough outs all postseason and they were again Wednesday. They loaded the bases in the eighth inning with two outs against Cardinals righthander Michael McAvene, who ended the threat with a strikeout.

The next inning, they rallied again, as Conor Davis homered and Steven Williams doubled to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs. But again, Louisville defused the threat as lefthander Michael Kirian finished the game with a strikeout.

The Cardinals have been Omaha regulars under McDonnell and are making their fifth CWS appearance in his 13-year tenure. But before Wednesday they were 2-9 in Omaha, a record belying the program’s quality but representative of how difficult it is to win on the sport’s biggest stage.

“As I’ve learned, it’s not easy winning out here and they don’t give you anything,” McDonnell said. “You’ve got to earn it. So, I’m really proud of how hard they fought.”

When Kirian closed the game out for his fifth save of the season, the Cardinals had a small celebration but were mostly already focused on the next step, which will come Thursday.

“We’re looking for the next game,” outfielder Drew Campbell said. “Like, we’re not done yet.”

After Wednesday’s victory, Louisville gets to play at least one more game in Omaha and the schedule means there won’t be any more practices this season. The Cardinals are on this ride until the end, and with what they showed over the last two days, they may well be on it for a while still.

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