Moments after picking up his 17th save of the season in the University of Louisville's 5-3 win over Kennesaw State in the first game of the Super Regional, All-American reliever Nick Burdi was asked about the eighth inning clutch hit by freshman Nick Solak.
"These guys aren't freshmen anymore," he quickly replied.
With two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth and the Cardinals locked 3-3 with the Owls, Solak, a product of Woodridge (Ill.) Naperville North, connected for a double, driving in two runs to help the host team regain the lead.
The big hit capped two consecutive innings of key offensive moments for the Cardinals. In the seventh, Solak started the rally with a one-out shot to right center for a double. Two batters later, Alex Chittenden connected for the team's first two-out hit of the evening, driving in Solak and close KSU's lead to 3-2.
Grant Kay led off the top of the eight with a single down the left field line, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Following a four-pitch walk to Zach Lucas and a pitching change, head coach Dan McDonnell called for the squeeze play and it was perfectly executed. Kyle Gibson laid down a beauty of a bunt, as Kay raced down the third base line at tied the score 3-3. Gibson, by the way, beat out the throw at first, setting up Solak's big moment.
"Between Chitty's RBI single and Gibby getting that bunt down, that lets everyone take a step back and you can breathe a little bit more and things come a little bit easier," Solak explained. "I wasn't try to do to much. I was trying to stay on the pitch and it worked out."
Solak has consistently improved throughout the season and has become a key contributor to Louisville's impressive run. During the AAC Tournament, Solak helped fuel the team's run to the title game, going 9-13 with 6 RBI. He's currently hitting .364 on the season, with 21 RBI. His .464 on base percentage is tops on the team.Getting the chance to be the starting designated hitter in a Super Regional is something he's been driven by. The possibility that he'd have the biggest clutch hit of his young career while making his 23rd career start on such a large stage is what he's dreamed about.
"Ever since I got here, we've been watching video of last years team dog-piling and winning, and going to Omaha," he explained afterward. "It's something that you lay in bed dreaming about. It's cool to get that opportunity to come up big for the team."
With a stadium record crowd of 5,351 watching on, Solak lived the moment.
"I looked up and just saw white towels waving everywhere," he said. "It was awesome."
He finished Friday with his second career three-hit game and three extremely valuable RBI. Last time he did that was in the AAC tournament championship game against Houston.
The Cardinals reliever finished his comments on the Solak and the other freshman by comparing them to his own group when he first arrived on campus and expressed confidence in the direction of the program.
"You know that when we leave that the tradition of Louisville Baseball is going to carry on," he said.
Louisville and Kennesaw State will meet for game two of the Super Regional on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.