Louisville bounces Kentucky from NCAA Tournament

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 1, 2014 

LOUISVILLE — With nearly a four-hour delay to the first pitch of the Kentucky-Louisville game, the NCAA regional here continued Sunday to be baseball only procrastinators could love.

Fans had to wait through seven hours and 16 minutes of delays Friday and Sunday to get to the championship game. UK and U of L made the waiting worthwhile.

Top-seeded Louisville beat Kentucky 4-1 in a game that featured plenty of baseball drama, two starting pitchers rising to the occasion, an ejection and — fittingly — a steady rain at the decisive moment.

U of L, which never trailed in the regional, and Kentucky had to wait through a weather delay of three hours and 55 minutes to get started. The Cards scored the game's first run in the third inning. Catcher Shane Crain opened the inning with a walk. He moved to third on Sutton Whiting's double. After a hit batter loaded the bases, Nick Solak drove in Crain with a single.

The cleanup hitter, Jeff Gardner, ended the inning with a double-play grounder.

Louisville struggled to get the big hit. The Cardinals left seven runners on base in the first five innings. Another bases-loaded threat went for naught in the fifth when UK freshman Logan Salow struck out Gardner and Alex Chittenden.

That typified a gutty performance by Salow. He gave up five hits, hit two batters and walked three. But he got every big out, which left Louisville with only a one-run lead to nurse in the final innings.

Salow, a native of Ashland, pitched against Louisville in both regular-season games. He was the winning pitcher in the game on April 15, giving up five hits but no runs in three and two-thirds innings. That was the most he's pitched in a game this season until Sunday night. In his seven most recent appearances, Salow pitched a total of six innings, giving up 16 hits and 13 runs (12 earned).

Louisville starter Josh Rogers also threw effectively. He limited UK to four hits and no runs over the first six innings.

Rogers, a 6-foot-3 lefty, pitched in both regular-season games against Kentucky. In those games, he gave up seven hits and eight runs (seven earned) in a total of seven and one-third innings.

UK threatened in the fourth. But Micheal Thomas was cut down trying to stretch a single into a double for the second out. Storm Wilson's flyout to center left Ka'ai Tom stranded at third.

The next inning brought another chance for Kentucky to score. But with runners on first and second, Max Kuhn grounded to short. The Louisville shortstop started to toss to second for the force out. Realizing it was too late, Sutton Whiting threw awkwardly to first to get Kuhn by a half step.

The game had been billed as a competition between Louisville's speed and Kentucky's offensive firepower. That storyline was realized, belatedly, in the top of the seventh.

Kansas Coach Ritch Price, whose team lost to Louisville and Kentucky in the regional, said on Saturday that U of L possessed "absolutely phenomenal" team speed. He noted how a seemingly harmless ground ball to third resulted in a Kansas throwing error by Tommy Mirabelli.

"The only reason he panicked was the guy was flying down the line," Price said. "I think it caught him by surprise how fast the guy was.

Those words echoed in the seventh inning. After Whiting led off the inning with a walk, Cole Sturgeon beat out a drag bunt.

The next U of L batter, Nick Solak, also bunted. UK reliever Sam Mahar, who came in for Salow, threw wildly over the first baseman's head. That allowed Whiting to score from second to put the Cardinals ahead 2-0.

Later, a groundout scored a third run. A fourth came in when Corey Ray lined what looked like a single to left. Ray's hustle turned the single into a double.

"Coach Mac tells us (to) think 'two' coming out of the box," Ray said of U of L Coach Dan McDonnell on Saturday. "No matter where you hit it. Whether a fly ball or a ground ball. Just hustle."

A light, but steady rain fell throughout the latter innings, adding to the growing gloom for Kentucky.

U of L's seventh inning included a bit of ugliness. Caught in a rundown between third and home, Alex Chittenden dove into the legs of first baseman Thomas Bernal at the plate rather than concede the out. Players rushed out of both dugouts, but nobody was hurt or ejected.

Kentucky did not go away quietly. A hit batter, walk and balk put runners on third and second with no outs in the bottom of the seventh. Matt Reida, who was given new life when U of L's third baseman dropped a foul popup, drove in UK's first run with a groundout.

It took another example of Louisville speed to prevent more Kentucky scoring. Kyle Barrett, batting for Javon Shelby, laced a liner up the middle. Sturgeon got a jump on the ball, caught it and fired a strike to the plate to get Bernal for the third out.

Bernal, who had been submarined as a defender at the plate in the top of the inning, came in high on Crain, the U of L catcher. That got Bernal ejected.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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