June 6, 2014


Late Rally Lifts Louisville

By Howie Lindsey

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com



LOUISVILLE, Ky. – An oh-so-sweet suicide squeeze and a big hit by a freshman put No. 10 Louisville one win away from a return trip to Omaha for the College World Series after a 5-3 win over Kennesaw State Friday night.


With his team down 3-2 with one out in the bottom of the eighth, Cardinals senior Kyle Gibson laid down a perfect bunt to score junior Grant Kay from third and reach base safely. 


“We knew it was coming, but you can’t defend against something like that,” Kennesaw coach Mike Sansing said. "We had our third baseman in, but the placement of it was perfect. You put one down in that triangle right there, you can't do a whole lot about it.”


Gibson said, “Right before I went up there, Coach Mac [Dan McDonnell] told me, ‘You are the best bunter on the team. Well, maybe second to Cole [Sturgeon].’ After he said that I wanted to prove him wrong.”


Gibson’s bunt tied the score at 3 and put runners on first and second with one out. After a ground out by senior Cole Sturgeon pushed the runners to second and third, freshman Nick Solak belted a double to right center to put Louisville (49-15) ahead 5-3. 


“I don’t know, I’m just seeing the ball well,” Solak said, adding “I looked up and I saw white towels waving everywhere in the crowd. It was awesome. It was cool.”


The three-run eighth inning put Louisville up 5-3 heading into the top of the ninth. Louisville last lost a lead in the ninth inning in May of 2012 (42-0 this season). 


The record crowd of 5,351 fans rose to their feet as the Cardinals brought in triple-digit-velocity closer Nick Burdi for the final three outs. Burdi, a junior who was just drafted in the second round (46th overall pick) by the Minnesota Twins, struck out the first two batters before getting a pop-up for the third out a batter later.


“It was an exciting game,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “Seeing our fans and all the excitement – it was a fun game to be a part of. These were two teams with a lot of talent who believed in themselves... fortunately we were able to put something together there at the end and get the W.”


Trailing for most of the game as they stranded nine runners in the first seven innings, the Cardinals had a brief 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Gibson scored from second on a RBI single to left field by Solak. 


Kennesaw State (40-23) answered with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth when Louisville starter Kyle Funkhouser walked the first two batters, Kai Simmons and Jacob Bruce, who advanced on a single by Bo Way. A single by Chris McGowan scored Simmons, and a fielder’s choice by Brennan Morgan scored Bruce.


Up 2-1, the Owls added a run in the top of the fifth inning as Funkhouser walked Cornell Nixon to start the inning. Nixon advanced to second on a ground out, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error by Gibson. 


Louisville cut the margin in half in the seventh inning when Solak doubled to right-center and scored from second on a RBI single to center by Alex Chittenden.


The Cardinals then finally broke through in the eighth inning with the game-tying and game-winning runs. 


Middle reliever Kyle McGrath (2-1) picked up the win for Louisville with a strikeout and a hit in one inning, with Funkhouser going seven innings with three hits, three runs (two earned), seven strikeouts and five walks. Burdi threw one inning, allowing one hit and striking out two. 


Kennesaw State’s James Connell (7-4) took the loss despite pitching only two-thirds of an inning. He gave up one hit, two runs (both earned) with a walk and a strikeout. KSU starter Jordan Hillyer tossed 4.2 innings, giving up one run on five hits with two strikeouts and four walks. 


Solak was the star at the plate, going 3 for 5 with two doubles, including the game-winning hit. Kay was 3 for 4, and Gibson was 2 for 4.


The Owls’ Max Pentecost, the No. 13 overall player taken in Thursday night’s first round of the Major League Draft, went 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout.


Louisville could clinch its third trip to the College World Series Saturday night (first pitch 7 p.m., ESPNU), but McDonnell said eliminating Kennesaw State won't be easy. 


“You expect them to come out and compete,” McDonnell said. “We have a lot of respect for these guys.”


Kennesaw’s Nixon didn't lack for confidence. 


“We don't lose twice,” Nixon said. “We will be back ready to play tomorrow, best believe that.”