After the Irish tied it up in the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals delivered again the clutch for the second straight day, getting four runs in the ninth to help them defeat Notre Dame 9-6. Louisville took two of three from the Big East-leading Irish over the weekend. To put this into perspective, Notre Dame has now lost just four of 52 all-time Big East series at Eck Stadium. The defeat drops the Irish to 37-11-1 overall and 17-3-1 and lets the chasers in the league race to close the gap. Notre Dame closes out conference play on the road with series at Seton Hall and Villanova.
"Sometimes, you just have to tip your hat to the other team," Irish head coach Paul Mainieri said. "Louisville came here and played great. Look at all the diving plays their infielders made. They came through with clutch hits and their pitchers made clutch pitches.
"Usually, when we get into late-game situations, we find a way to win them. These two games we didn't. Winning college baseball games is not easy. Sometimes you have to be reminded of that. We made it look easy there for awhile. Now we're going to have to go win a title on the road."
Things were looking up for Notre Dame late in the contest. After blowing a 3-0 early lead and then falling behind 5-3 in the sixth, the Irish tied the contest up at 5-all in the eighth when Jeremy Barnes tripled to lead the inning off and scored two batters later on an RBI groundout from Sean Gaston.
That's when Louisville (21-28, 11-10 in the Big East) came up big time in the clutch. The Cardinals started off the ninth when Logan Johnson lined a single off of Notre Dame's Mike Dury (3-1) past a diving Alex Nettey, a ball Mainieri thought his senior center field should have come up with. Johnson went to second on a sacrifice bunt and was joined on the base paths by Jorge Castillo when Mainieri intentionally walked the Louisville batter.
The Irish head coach then brought in right hander Kyle Weiland to face Pete Rodriguez for the righty-righty matchup. The move backfired when Weiland walked him on four straight pitches to load the bases and then uncorked a wild pitch to allow Johnson to score, giving Louisville a 6-5 lead.
It got worse when Isaiah Howes lined a stand-up triple to right field that scored two more runs to increase the advantage to 8-5. Howes was plated two batters later on an RBI groundout to complete the damage. Notre Dame tried to rally in the bottom of the inning. Craig Cooper lined a single to center field that scored Greg Lopez to cut it to 9-6 and the Irish had the tying run at the plate but Barnes flied out off of Griffin Bailey (3-2) to end the contest and ruin Senior Day.
"They deserved to beat us," Mainieri said. "They executed and played better than us."
There was some good and bad on Sunday. The good has to be Cooper. The senior first baseman went 4-for-5 on Senior Day with two runs scored and a RBI. He raised his averaged to .441 for the season, which leads the team by almost 80 points.
"He's had a great year," Mainieri said. "He's been phenomenal all year. He did everything he could to help us win out there but we just didn't do enough."
The bad: Wade Korpi. The sophomore left-hander entered the game in the sixth inning with a 3-2 lead after starter Tom Thornton had gone five innings. Korpi came into the contest with a 1.53 ERA but that took a serious hit on Sunday. He allowed three runs on three hits and walked two in just a third of an inning. Louisville ended the sixth up 5-3. As a starter, Korpi's ERA is 1.09. But in his two stints out of the bullpen this season, it's over 20 in just 1.2 innings of work, allowing six runs on six hits and walking four.
"When you're called on to pitch and the team is counting on you, you're expected to pitch well," Mainieri said. "If you can't, I'll use someone else. It's that simple."