(Courtesy: UofL Athletics) LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Entering the day on the brink of elimination, the seventh-ranked Louisville baseball team tallied a pair of victories on Sunday at Jim Patterson Stadium to force a winner-take-all game in the NCAA Regional on Monday.
Louisville (46-16) downed Indiana 9-7 to begin the day and followed with an 11-2 showing against Illinois State to set up Monday’s final. The Cardinals and Illinois State will play for a spot in the Super Regionals Monday at 1 p.m., ET at Jim Patterson Stadium.
“We knew it was going to be a long day, but it was a fun day,” head coach Dan McDonnell said. “I’m really proud of these guys. We needed to get the bats going, and we got the bats going. So, I’m just happy for these guys.”
With the two wins, McDonnell now has 600 for his Louisville coaching career. Since taking over the UofL program in 2007, the Cardinals lead all of Division I in victories.
Following a loss on Saturday, the Cardinals woke up on Sunday needing two wins to keep the season going. The offense got the ball rolling against Indiana to start the day and Louisville never looked back.
Danny Oriente kicked the scoring off with a double into the gap that plated a pair of runs in the second inning, and Justin Lavey added a two-run single later in the frame to give the Cardinals a 4-0 cushion early.
One inning later, Alex Binelas hit his 14th home run of the year, a two-run shot over the centerfield wall, to stretch the advantage to six. The freshman then added another run on a groundout in the fifth and the Cardinals appeared to be cruising.
Indiana (37-23) wouldn’t go quietly though. The Hoosiers finally broke through against UofL starter Bobby Miller in the sixth, bringing home four runs to cut the deficit to just three. However, Louisville answered back with run-scoring knocks from Binelas and Drew Campbell and held a 9-4 lead after seven.
IU chipped away with a run in the eighth and a two-out solo homer in the ninth made it a three-run game. The Hoosiers added a RBI single two batters later and brought the tying run to the plate. Louisville closer Michael McAvene was ejected from the ballgame by the home plate umpire with a 3-2 count, forcing Michael Kirian into action, and the left-hander got a called strike three on his first pitch to finish off the victory.
Miller (6-1) allowed four runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts across 5.1 innings. Adam Elliott gave up just an unearned run in his 2.1 innings.
Justin Lavey had three hits in the win, while Logan Wyatt, Tyler Fitzgerald and Binelas finished with two each.
After an emotional close to game one, the Cardinals attention turned to Illinois State. The Cardinals jumped in front in the second inning once again, getting a sacrifice fly from Campbell and RBI single from Lavey to take an early 2-0 edge.
Illinois State (36-25) got one of the runs back in the bottom half of the inning, but Luke Smith was able to limit the damage.
Jake Snider crushed his first home run of the season in the fourth inning and Lucas Dunn dropped a perfectly placed fly inside the right field foul line for a triple that scored two more runs.
From there, the story of the night was Smith on the mound. The junior, making his first start since April 16 at Kentucky, was masterful on Sunday evening. Smith had the first two hitters of the fourth inning reach, but pitched out of the jam with a fly out and pair of strikeouts and settled in.
The Champaign, Illinois, native allowed leadoff singles in the first and second innings, and did not give up another hit until the ninth. Smith retired 10 in a row from the fifth through the eighth innings and exited to a standing ovation in the ninth with the longest postseason outing in Louisville NCAA Tournament history.
Smith (6-0) closed out the night with two runs allowed on three hits in 8.1 innings of work. The right-hander struck out seven and tossed a career-high 129 pitches.
Louisville provided Smith with insurance in the eighth, plating six runs to blow the game open. Oriente, Campbell and Zach Britton all had run-scoring singles, while Snider had the final blow of a two-run base hit to cap the offensive output.
Snider was 3-for-4 with three RBIs to lead the way. The home run was the fourth of his career, three of which have now been in NCAA Tournament play. Binelas, Campbell and Lavey each had two hits.