LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After consecutive one-run heartbreaking losses, Louisville left no room for error in this NCAA super regional.
From Brendan McKay’s effective pitching to big hits by Drew Ellis and Logan Taylor — who also contributed a spectacular game-saving, ninth-inning catch — the Cardinals came through in every phase against rival Kentucky.
Next stop: Omaha.
Ellis homered twice, Josh Stowers and Taylor each delivered extra-base RBI hits and left-hander McKay scattered eight hits and two runs as Louisville topped Kentucky 6-2 on Saturday and become the first school to clinch a College World Series berth.
“It means everything,” McKay said of the achievement. “After the two previous seasons, being so close to winning in 2015 and then last year being up three runs in the ninth and before it all comes crashing down on you, this probably the best moment I’ve ever had.”
A day after smacking a three-run homer in Louisville’s 5-2, opening-game win, the junior first baseman hit solo shots in the second and sixth innings to ignite a super regional sweep that returned the Cardinals (52-10) to the CWS for the third time in five seasons and first since 2014.
Stowers followed with an RBI triple, and Taylor delivered the first of two eighth-inning insurance runs as Louisville remained unbeaten in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s very refreshing to be able to go back to Omaha,” said Taylor, who went 2 for 4. “It makes all the work you do and all the frustration that you’ve had building up over the last two years (satisfying), to finally get over that hump. … We’ve been cut off at the supers, and now we’re past that and can keep going.”
McKay (10-3) had to work at times but was effective, striking out nine in 6 2/3 innings to win a showdown with Kentucky ace Sean Hjelle (11-4).
Marcus Carson and Tristan Pompey knocked in runs for Kentucky (43-23), which made its first super regional appearance.
The Cardinals’ victory also claimed Bluegrass bragging rights against Kentucky after the schools each won at home earlier this season. A wild, if delayed, celebration followed before a red-clad sellout crowd of 6,237.
IN A GROOVE
Ellis’ mastery of Kentucky pitching continued as he went 3 for 4. Of his 15 at-bats against the Wildcats this season, he had eight hits (.533) including four homers.
Not bad considering he just wanted to put the ball in play and see what could happen.
“I just tried to stay simple, not do too much,” he said. “I got a fastball and got a slider and just put a good swing on it.”
Kentucky made big strides under first-year coach Nick Mingione. The Wildcats won the fourth-most games in program history, returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 and clinched its first regional.
Though the Wildcats never quite got going in the super regional, Mingione hopes this appearance provides a starting point for success as well as something memorable.
“I’m really proud of this team,” he said. “To do something that’s never done before is hard, and they’re going to be able to tell their kids, they’re going to be able to tell their families, their wives one day they were part of something that’s never been done before.”
Kentucky threatened one last time in the bottom of the ninth by putting one on with one out as Marcus Carson came up. His long drive to right center seemed destined to score a run — that is, until Taylor robbed him with an amazing sprint from left center to make the catch while crashing into the wall.
“There was no way I wasn’t catching that ball,” Taylor said to laughter. “I just saw it hit and knew it had to be me.”
This story corrects previous version to state there was one out instead of two on ninth-inning catch.