The Cardinals (47-23) put two runs on the scoreboard before anyone was out and continued expanding until the outcome was obvious. With the win Louisville survived to play another day, specifically Wednesday with another elimination game against the loser of Sunday night's Rice-North Carolina contest.
Mississippi State concluded their campaign 38-22, going winless at Omaha for only the second time in program history and the first since 1971.None of the current Diamond Dogs had been born then and ancient history didn't worry them much. Nor, after the initial letdown, did the early exit with the loss to Louisville and Friday's 9-4 defeat by North Carolina.
"We did the best we could, some things didn't go our way," said C Edward Easley. "We're proud of our guys and we had a good time."
Certainly Louisville's batting order had a good time Sunday at the Series. The Cardinals, who had lost 15-10 to Rice in the first round, brought the same sticks and built a huge early lead scoring eight runs in the first four frames off a couple of Bulldog hurlers. "They're been hot the last couple of weeks at the bat and they did a great job," said Polk. "You tip your cap to a team that played a little better than we did." They definitely hit the ball better with 18 safeties to State's 10.
Most impressive were the longest knocks, with third baseman Chris Dominguez slapping a pair out of the park and two teammates hitting their own shots. All went to either center- or left-fields, and while the wind was whipping that direction all day there was nothing cheap about any.
They like to get on top of the plate and if the pitch is in the zone they're going to take a hack at it," said Easley.
Starting pitcher Justin Marks was a capable complement to his offense, keeping State down and shut out as the lead grew inning-by-inning. The southpaw put in 5.1 innings with three runs on four hits, five strikeouts and five walks. "I was real impressed with his savvy, and at times he was effectively wild," CF Jeffrey Rea said. "He'd walk a guy then paint you away and get his off-speed over enough to get people out." Marks (9-2) did not get a chance to run the route, though, taking a hard one-hopper off his knee an out into the sixth inning. He tried to stay in only to give up a three-run homer to 2B Brandon Turner.
But that was State's last chance to rally as Kyle Hollander and Skylar Meade were able to take care of the remaining innings with only one other scorer allowed.
For his part State starter Chad Crosswhite ran afoul of Louisville's offense too early and often, lasting one out and five runs into the third turn before relief arrived. Crosswhite (8-5) was assessed for all earned scores during his 2.2 innings on seven hits, striking out none and hitting one. "Not really much to say. I felt I let the team down," said Crosswhite. "That's not the way you want to start out."
Greg Houston threw 1.2 innings with three UL runs scoring, and after that it was just a matter of giving some other bullpen Bulldogs chances to toe the Rosenblatt rubber.
"We had a chance to pitch some guys," Polk said.
Louisville needed just two solid swings to grab the lead. Boomer Whiting dropped a long single between LF Joseph McCaskill and Rea, then Logan Johnson worked the count full. With Whiting on the move the left-handed slugger lifted a drive just left of center that nearly hit the Mississippi State sign above the centerfield wall. An inning later Dominguez followed suit with a leadoff solo shot to the same locale for a 3-0 Cardinal lead.
"I left some balls up and they hit them out, you can't do that against good teams," Crosswhite said. "They're going to crush it."
Marks wasn't entirely unchallenged but escaped damage long enough. Rea led off State's first with a single, though an out later he was caught in a delayed steal. In the second Marks walked both RF Mitch Moreland and 1B Brian LaNinfa on with no downs, before getting a slow roller from Turner. LaNinfa was beaten to second and well after the relay was thrown slid into that fielder. So while the throw pulled the first bagman and Turner was safe, a double-play was the official result. "Brian said he went right into the base and the umpire said it was a leg-kick outside the zone," said Polk, who didn't have enough of a view to argue on. Moreland had to go back to second where he watched 3B Russ Sneed take a called third strike.
"That takes everything out of the inning," Polk said.
The top of UL's order came back around for the third inning and Whiting reached on a ruled infield hit with the throw wild of first base. That runner was erased on a fielder's choice from Johnson; Crosswhite wasn't so fortunate with Daniel Burton, who pulled a double past the third base bag for runners in scoring spots.
Isaiah Howes made sure they did come home with a double to the centerfield wall that also forced the bullpen call for Houston. He inherited a runner on the middle bag and, after a great sliding catch in foul ground by McCaskill, filled the open sacks with a plunking and walk. A line-drive to Sneed left them unplated but State was down 5-0.
A leadoff walk of DH Connor Powers in the MSU third sent a couple of Cards to the bullpen, if only to motivate Marks into stranding the runner with a couple of sharp liners to outfielders and an infield pop. By the time he came back the margin was up to 8-0. A single and hit batsman had two on in the fourth and Johnson bunted both along.
The sacrifice wasn't necessary because Burton turned on Houston's first pitch and powered it over leftfield for a three-run blast. Houston finished out the frame before giving the ball to Tyler Whitney, who sat four of five faced and ended his short stint with a leadoff strikeout of Johnson in the sixth.
Marks coasted through five and was an out into the sixth when Moreland one-hopped a scorcher that caromed into the outside of the pitcher's left knee. It was an infield single but the bigger concern was the pitcher, with Polk even coming out to join a concerned Louisville crew. Marks dirtballed Moreland along and walked LaNinfa, then hung a 1-1 offering for Turner to drive two rows beyond the leftfield fence.
The three-run shot, Turner's third homer of the season, both put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard at last and sent Marks to the dugout with just a hint of a limp. And when Hollander gave up singles to Sneed and Powers it looked as if the Bulldogs were back in business. Then ninth-batter SS Jet Butler grounded to the second baseman for a rally-stopping double play.
And the Cardinals wasted no time responding at the expense of RHP Aaron Weatherford. With Jorge Castillo on base via a leadoff single Dominguez unloaded a blast to dead-leftfield for a two-run shot. A Rodriguez double, fly ball, and grounder to third from Cates made it a 11-3 scoreboard at the stretch. It was the first time Weatherford had allowed a run in his five post-season appearances.
Moreland nearly scored a pair in the bottom of the frame as with two out and Easley on first from a walking he drove one deep to rightfield. The ball just happened to catch one of the raised areas of padding at the base of each aisle; about a foot to either side and it would have caromed over the fence for a two-run homer. As it was Moreland earned a RBI-double, and when he got a free base on Hollander's wild pitch Louisville went to the pen again.
Meade needed one pitch to fly-out LaNinfa and keep it at 11-4. RHP Josh Johnson came on to throw for State in the eighth and got a break when Castillo's long drive that clearly landed on the leftfield line was somehow ruled a foul ball. It would have scored at least one of the two Cardinals on bases with no outs. Both were stranded on two strikeouts and a grounder.
But the senior righthander didn't escape his last game unscathed. With two on and two outs in the UL ninth a blooper off the bat of Johnson just got over Butler's glove for a hit. The shortstop compounded it by throwing the ball where no glove was, allowing Cates to come all the way from first for the last Cardinal score.
State's last inning of '07 began with Rea extending his school hits record by one more. He took second on a wild pitch and made third on Nick Hardy's fly ball. That was as far as the senior got with Meade fanning Easley and Moreland grounding out.
For all their disappointment, by interview time the Bulldogs were back in an objective frame of mind. After all, as late as mid-May nobody would have believed that a slumping squad would go far in the post-season, much less all the way to Omaha. "You want to go farther, it didn't happen, but we still enjoyed it," said freshman Turner. The only way to enjoy it more was to stay in the game, which didn't happen.
"It was a roller-coaster ride," said Rea of the last month of his last season. "It's all about who gets hot, no matter what your record is. All eight teams at the College World Series are hot, it's just a matter of who is the hottest."