The Cardinals had a different idea. Louisville scored the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth on an error and held on for dear life to beat No. 8 Notre Dame 5-4 on Saturday afternoon. The defeat is just the second for the Irish in Big East play (17-2-1) and sent their overall record to 37-10-1. It was also just the third home loss for Notre Dame this year. Usually, the big inning is the nail in the coffin for opposing teams. But the Cardinals showed some grit and peskiness to earn the come-from-behind victory.
"Give credit to Louisville," Irish head coach Paul Mainieri said. "They made some great defensive plays and came through when they needed to. We didn't. We had chances to knock in runs and we didn't do it. It caught up with us. I give all the credit to Louisville. They played great."
"We had plenty of opportunities. I've said it from day one: if we hit in the clutch, we have a great offensive team. If we don't, we won't create runs. We didn't do that today. It was disappointing."
The key play came in the top of the eighth with the contest knotted up at 4. The Irish's Jess Stewart (4-2) committed the ultimate pitching sin when he walked Pete Rodriguez to start the inning off and then allowed Isaiah Howes to double off the right field wall, putting runners on second and third with nobody out. Howes was a monster on Saturday, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and a triple.
Mainieri then brought in freshman Kyle Weiland. The right hander induced Louisville's Daniel Burton to hit a shallow fly to left field. But outfielder Matt Bransfield was unable to corral it and the ball fell in, allowing Rodriguez to score to make it 5-4 Cardinals. The official scoring was an error on Bransfield. Louisville's Griffin Bailey pitched the last two innings to pick up his third save of the season but it was the misplayed fly ball that was the difference.
"Bransfield called the ball and (Greg) Lopez shied away," Mainieri said. "It's two days in a row that he's called a ball that practically landed in the infield. I don't know what he was thinking."
Things were looking as great as the weather early on for Notre Dame. Danny Dressman singled in Craig Cooper in the bottom of the first to make it 1-0 Irish. Four batters later with the bases loaded, Sean Gaston provided the big blow when he lined a pitch to the left center gap to score three runs and give Notre Dame a 4-0 advantage. But Cardinal pitcher Brian Halford (4-3) settled down and did not allow another run as he worked seven innings of eight-hit ball.
Louisville (20-28, 10-10 in the Big East) then started their comeback off of Samardzija. The Cardinals got two runs in the second when Howes hit a double to left field to score Derrick Alfonso and Burton hit a RBI sacrifice fly to cut the Irish lead to 4-2. They tacked on another run in the third when Logan Johnson hit a RBI double past a diving Dressman to make it 4-3.
In the seventh, Samardzija walked the leadoff batter and then allowed Nick Haley to single to right field, sending Michael Urti to third base. Mike Dury relieved Samardzija and got Johnson to ground into a double play but Urti scored to tie the game up at 4-all. For the contest, Samardzija went six innings, giving up four runs on eight hits while striking out five.
"Jeff got his fastball up in the strike zone a little bit," Mainieri said. "He started off great. He struck out the side in the first inning. Usually he starts off slow. He hung in there. In the seventh inning, he walked the leadoff hitter and in the eighth, Stewart walked the leadoff batter and that was your demise. Late in close games, you can't walk leadoff hitters."