In a regional championship game that saw two starting pitchers deliver above and beyond what was expected of them, Rogers erased the memories of two regular season losses to Kentucky by pitching the No. 8 Cardinals to a 4-1 victory Sunday at Patterson Stadium.
Louisville's freshman left-hander allowed only one run on four hits, struck out five and walked none in six innings on the mound before handing the game over to a formidable bullpen that held the Wildcats hitless over the final three innings. Nick Burdi closed it out with his 16th save of the season, capping the Cardinals' 99th consecutive win after carrying a lead into the ninth inning.
Louisville (48-15) advances to the Super Regionals next week. The Cardinals will host the event after Florida State was upset as a national No. 1 seed in the Tallahassee Regional.
No. 22 Kentucky (37-25) had beaten Rogers twice during the teams' regular season home-and-home series, winning 8-3 on April 1 and 4-2 on April 15. He gave us five earned runs in seven innings pitched in those two outings.
"We've been saying depth was one of our strengths all year," Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell said of getting a strong outing from the No. 3 man in his rotation.
The Wildcats saw the curtain fall on their season on a long day that required them to first beat Kansas 8-6 in an elimination game, then wait out a four-hour storm delay before taking the field against the Cardinals. Two days earlier, UK had to endure three and a half hours of storm delays during its 10-6 loss to the Jayhawks.
The Cats' starter, freshman lefty Logan Salow, was almost as good as Rogers. In only his second start of the season, Salow (2-4) allowed one run on five hits in six innings of work, but his bullpen wasn't nearly as effective as that of his counterpart.
Sophomore lefty Sam Mahar allowed three runs on three hits and a walk and also committed a costly throwing error in the decisive seventh inning. By the time UK turned to its third reliever of the night, Zach Strecker, there was too much damage to overcome.
"I don't think you could have drawn up better freshman starts than what we had today," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. Earlier in the day, right-hander Zack Brown led the Cats over Kansas with five innings of strong work. "Pretty amazing. For Zack Brown and Logan Salow in this envrionment against those teams, to get the effort that we did out of those two guys makes me feel good about the direction of our program, where our pitching's headed, those two kids in particular."
Louisville made all the key defensive plays behind Rogers (3-3) and its other pitchers, including two gems from senior centerfielder Cole Sturgeon, who took an extra-base hit away from UK catcher Micheal Thomas with a running grab on the warning track in left-center field in the sixth inning and followed that up with a sliding grab of a sinking Kyle Barrett liner in the seventh inning, springing to his feet to throw out Thomas Bernal at the plate and end the Wildcats' biggest threat of the night.
The Cards' defense was also key in keeping national player of the year A.J. Reed from doing damage. Playing in his final collegiate game, Kentucky's junior star was 0-for-4, but could have had at least three hits if not for defensive shifts that Louisville employed throughout the game. The final one led to a unique double play to end the eighth inning as the shortstop, playing in shallow centerfield, took a one-hop smash and threw to the third baseman covering second, who threw on to first to complete twin killing.
"We hit a lot of balls really hard, just didn't find any holes," said Reed, who finished the year batting .336 with an NCAA-leading 23 home runs and an SEC-high 73 RBI. "That's the way our game goes sometimes. You gotta battle through that and keep grinding it out. Tonight, we just couldn't find the hits when we needed them."
Louisville was led by third baseman Alex Chittenden, who had three hits and drove in a run. Nick Solak and Corey Ray also had run-producing hits for the Cards.
Junior left fielder Ka'ai Tom had two of UK's four hits. Senior shortstop Matt Reida drove in the only run for the Cats with a ground ball in the seventh inning.
For Kentucky, it marked the fourth consecutive regional appearance in which the Cats reached the championship bracket but could not advance to the Super Regional. UK went 2-2 in 2014, 2012, 2008 and 2006 after losing the opening game of each event.
"You gotta win that first game," Henderson said. "That's no guarantee, but it just makes it a much easier path. That's the bottom line. You really need to win that. We'll do everything we can to work toward that."ALL-REGIONAL TEAM
P: Kyle Funkhouser, Louisville
P: Josh Rogers, Louisville
C: Micheal Thomas, Kentucky
1B: Cody Koch, Kent State
2B: Zach Lucas, Louisville
SS: Sutton Whiting, Louisville
3B: Max Kuhn, Kentucky
OF: Cole Sturgeon, Louisville
OF: Corey Ray, Louisville
OF: Austin Cousino, Kentucky
DH: Tucker Tharp, Kansas