LOUISVILLE, KY — Louisville got another superb Super Regional pitching performance to advance to the College World Series with a 12-0 win over East Carolina on Saturday.
Cardinals sophomore right-hander Bobby Miller didn’t allow a hit through eight innings. Louisville scored three runs each in the second, third, fifth and ninth innings in earning its fifth trip to Omaha since coach Dan McDonnell took over the program in 2007.
Louisville won the first game in the best-of-three series 14-1 on Friday.
The Pirates were left to ponder how things might have been different if they had been hosting a Super Regional, which coach Cliff Godwin made clear his club deserved.
“Congratulations to Louisville,” Godwin said in opening the postgame news conference. “They played unbelievable baseball for two days. I felt like when you push two games together, our guys just ran out of gas having to play five games in 48 hours (Greenville regional). And you’d think for student-athlete welfare, the NCAA is so concerned about that, we wouldn’t have to play the first game on Friday.”
Some Super Regionals started on Saturday.
“I guess that’s the way it is when you’re a non-power five school,” Godwin said. “These guys, in my opinion, earned to be a national seed. Not over Louisville, but they had the fifth RPI in the country, won 42 regular-season games, had the 11th non-conference strength-of schedule and didn’t even sniff a national seed. In my opinion, that’s not right.
” … I’m not being a sore loser, but I’m protecting my guys and my guys deserve that. I was going to say this whether we won the Super Regional or lost it.”
Sophomore left-hander Alec Burleson (6-2) started for ECU and yielded three earned runs in the second inning after a walk on a full count to leadoff batter Jake Snider. Danny Oriente bunted his way aboard and Drew Campbell had a triple to the left field corner for a 2-0 lead. Campbell scored on a wild pitch.
“He’s the best competitor on our team,” Godwin said of the decision to start Burleson, who was not in the normal weekend rotation. “And even when we weren’t looking for him to go deep, if Pack (left fielder Bryant Packard) makes that catch down the line (Campbell’s triple), the game is different for a little bit, at least.
“The ball faded in the wind, and baseball’s a game of inches. We didn’t make the catch.”
ECU didn’t manage a hit off Miller until Thomas Francisco lined a single to right after Chandler Jenkins had been hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the ninth. The lone hit for the Pirates ended the day for Miller. He walked two and struck out five. Cards reliever Michael Kirian walked Packard to load the bases with none out.
The hosts turned a double play that got Jenkins coming home and retired Connor Norby going to first. Burleson was hit by a pitch to reload the bases before Washer lined out to center to end the game.
Justin Lavey went 3-for-3 with three runs and three RBIs to lead Louisville (49-16) offensively. Drew Campbell was 3-for-5 with three runs and two RBIs. Henry Davis was 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
Despite the immediate disappointment, there were a lot of accomplishments for ECU (47-18) in 2019. The Pirates won the regular season in the American Athletic Conference and captured the Greenville Regional with four straight wins in two days after an opening upset.
“20 wins in the conference,” Godwin said. “Never been done. Louisville had 19 back in ’14 or ’15 in the conference. Our conference doesn’t get enough credit for how good they are. This year was a down year RPI-wise and we’re fifth in the country.
“We only got three teams in, when a power 5 conference, which I won’t mention, got five teams in that was the seventh best conference in the country. I’ll remember that we dominated. We clinched on Friday night, second-to-last weekend. I’ll remember us having above a 3.4 GPA and dominating the conference.
“Going on the road to Ole Miss, and Kuch (Jake Kuchmaner) throwing eight and two-thirds of no-hit baseball. Kuch throwing a perfect game at Maryland. … We played eight doubleheaders this year, and only lost one at UCLA, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and we swept the other seven. You’re 14-0 in double-headers.
“It’s a pretty tough group. After getting swept at UCLA, we went on a winning streak (eight games). Just, so many things. I’ll remember Washer’s last at-bat in the Super Regional, down 12-0 or whatever we were down. And he’s fighting tooth and nail, and smokes one in the gap and they run it down. That’s who our team was.
“Sam Lanier pitching with probably a torn UCL on the mound, and just gutting it out for an inning and a third, those are the things I’ll remember about this team. Losing game one of a regional in front of East Carolina is pressure.
“It’s like playing at LSU or Ole Miss and having a 7.5 percent chance to win the thing. And we didn’t just win it, we dominated it in front of Pirate Nation and dog piling. Back-to-back regional hosts. These kids have done so much for our program and East Carolina University.
“They’re unbelievable ambassadors. Jake Agnos is an All-American on the mound and he’s first team academic All-American. Alec Burleson’s an All-American and he’s third team academic All-American. I could not be happier with where our program is, and my hat is off to all our support staff. You’ve gotta have a great staff or you’re not gonna be where we are today.”
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell was gracious in victory.
“I first want to congratulate Cliff Godwin and East Carolina baseball,” McDonnell said. “Got a lot of respect for them. Great coach, great staff, great program, great fan base. I got to watch a lot of footage of them from when they hosted the regional, and I told Cliff, ‘The place was rocking.’
“He has it going on there. After the game, I told him, I know how much it hurts. Unfortunately, I’ve been there, we’ve been there, and I told him what his fan base has to understand is, if you are going to live in a world of hosting regionals and being a part of Super Regionals, you’re going to have some really tough defeats.
“No one’s immune from that, and that’s part of it. And as much as it hurts right now, you have to learn to embrace it, and I hope his fan base and administration understands it’s a tough spot to be in. Eight teams will be crushed this week, but one of the top 16 programs in the country is a lot to be proud of.”
Godwin brought seniors Evan Voliva, Sam Lanier and Turner Brown as well as junior Jake Washer to the postgame news conference.
“Really, there’s no words to describe what we’re feeling,” Brown said. “Everybody here has put in a lot of work. … It has by far been the best four years of my life. Thank you to Pirate Nation for sticking by our side through the ups and downs. This place, I can probably speak for all of them, this place is our home. And we love this place.
“Whenever I came here, this was a good program. But when I’m leaving, it’s a national program. Everybody, all the seniors, everybody that’s here, the guys that got drafted that are going to be leaving, they left this place better than they found it.
“This one weekend doesn’t define our season. We broke a lot of records. It’s like Coach Godwin says, ‘This program will get to Omaha one day,’ and I think that us as a group has helped mold the foundation to get us there.”