LOUISVILLE, KY – Drew Ellis’s recent power surge and Brendan McKay’s strong outing led Louisville to a Super Regional sweep and secured its third trip to the College World Series in the past five years with a 6-2 win over intra-state rival Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.
Ellis – who also hit a game-winning three-run shot yesterday – hit two solo home runs to lead the Cardinals. In the top of the second inning, he gave the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead with his team-leading 19th of the season. Then he hit his 20th in the top of the sixth; both home runs were off UK starter Sean Hjelle.
“In the regionals, I was trying to do way too much…There was definitely a conscious effort to keep it simple,” Ellis said.
“He’s an elite hitter, and you’re not going to keep him down for very long,” Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione said of Ellis’s dominance the past two days.
After Ellis’s home run in the sixth, Josh Stowers’s triple drove home Devin Hairston from first base to extend Louisville’s lead to 4-1. More damage came in the eighth. Tyler Fitzgerald drew a two-out walk, and Logan Taylor’s double to left-center drove him in from first base. Then Colby Fitch’s bloop single to right scored Taylor to make it 6-2.
McKay faced one over the minimum through four but ran into trouble in the fifth. The Wildcats got on the board when Marcus Carson’s sacrifice fly drove in Riley Mahan, but McKay got Connor Heady to foul out to Ellis to end the inning, leaving Tyler Marshall at second base.
One of the biggest UK threats came in the sixth, but the Wildcats came up empty. Evan White and Zach Reks hit back-to-back one-out singles, and then each advanced a base after McKay was called for a balk. The lefty ace recovered by striking out Kole Cottam and Mahan to end the inning.
UK chased McKay in the seventh after Tristan Pompey’s RBI-single cut the Louisville lead in half at 4-2. Sam Bordner came in to relieve McKay. He walked White to load the bases but struck out Reks to strand all three runners and end the inning. McKay’s final line after 108 pitches (75 strikes): 6.2 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 SO, 1 HB, 1 BK.
Hjelle – a sophomore who stands at a towering 6’11” – got out of some jams that could have made the deficit much worse early in the game, the most significant of which came in the third inning. Hjelle gave up back-to-back one out singles but struck out Devin Mann and got McKay to pop up to end the inning, stranding runners at the corners. His final line: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO.
Dan McDonnell – in his 11th season leading the Cardinals – has now led his program to its fourth-ever appearance in the College World Series, third in five years and first since 2014.
“I’m so happy for this group,” McDonnell said. “We told the freshmen (several months ago), ‘You’re going to benefit from what just happened,’” he continued when talking about last year’s Super Regional loss at home to UC Santa Barbara.
“This group taught me a lot about encouragement, brotherhood, trust and faith,” he said.