For Louisville baseball, dreams of a championship come up short again — but this time it’s different – The Courier-Journal
The CJ’s Danielle Lerner talks about the controversial calls that lead to U of L’s season ending loss to TCU in the College World Series.
Sam Upshaw Jr./C-J
U of L Logan Taylor talks about loss to TCU in College World Series which ended their season.
Sam Upshaw Jr./C-J
U of Lâs Ryan Summers talks about his controversial tag out at 2nd base in loss to TCU in College World Series.
Sam Upshaw Jr./C-J
U of L coach Dan McDonnell says he lost his cool after a controversial call that resulted in his ejection in the College World Series as they lost to TCU.
Sam Upshaw Jr./C-J
OMAHA, Neb. — In sports, winning and losing are thought to exist on the opposite end of a spectrum, determined by a scoreboard or a stopwatch.
It is not so with success and failure, two fates that often seem inexplicably intertwined – at least for Louisville baseball.
That was never more apparent than Thursday night when U of L was eliminated from the College World Series in a 4-3 loss to TCU riddled with controversial calls.
It was a callback to U of L’s 2015 NCAA super regional when an extra-innings home run that some swore was a foul ball was the team’s undoing.
For all the growth the program has undergone since then, Thursday marked another season capped by a game that left Cards fans and players alike feeling like something had been stolen from them.
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For coach Dan McDonnell, who was ejected from the game in the penultimate inning for arguing a call, it was less a robbery and more so a reminder that along with misfortune comes personal responsibility.
“I still remember opportunities we missed (in 2015) like it was last night,” he said. “And so tonight you live with a couple things you could have done better. … If anything it just motivates me, it just fuels me to want to be a better coach and get ready for next year.”
Less than half an hour after his team’s season ended, McDonnell visibly fought back emotion while recalling the ups and downs U of L has faced.
“What the juniors and seniors have gone through the last couple years – great seasons, winning the ACC, national seeds, winning your regional and then losing at home in a super regional – is so tough,” McDonnell said. “I reminded them out there: courage is not winning. You’re not always going to win. Courage is stepping into the battle.”
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For U of L, success means going toe to toe with failure. It means facing the fact that a program record 53-win season — one which earned a third consecutive national seed and produced eight MLB draft picks — can be wiped out on a single June evening in Omaha.
It’s not often a team manages to disappoint as consistently as it ascends to new heights, and it’s even more rare when the nature of a program comes to be defined by that tortuous relationship.
McDonnell acknowledged the staggering expectations that had been heaped upon his program, expectations compounded by the defeats of recent years.
“These guys embraced the expectations,” McDonnell said, “and made it a point to get to Omaha and win a national championship.”
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The loss was a dagger to the heart for U of L, one plunged in by TCU’s pitching staff and subsequently twisted by two umpiring decisions – a TCU runner ruled safe at the plate and U of L’s Ryan Summers called out while stealing.
The distinction, U of L players said, was that the calls were not the fatal strike.
“It’s human,” junior Brendan McKay said. “I mean, there’s no robotic strike zone or sensors for the baseball and the glove and foot touching the base or anything like that. So, I mean, you can’t fault anybody for that.”
Inside the sullen U of L clubhouse, players sat in tight circles playing cards.
“The umpires probably got all the calls right tonight,” said senior Logan Taylor. “It’s just really frustrating when you’re losing and there’s a bunch of plays that don’t go your way because you really want something to get you momentum to win the game. But it wasn’t our night.”
He paused and looked down at the paper placard in his lap, the one with the College World Series logo printed next to his name.
“It just felt like we were so close from being able to come back.”
And those are the ones that hurt the most.
The Cards entered the top of the ninth inning with one final opportunity to put their hopes on the line. Players stood on their toes and gripped the edge of the dugout fence. The hope was palpable and ballooned further after Devin Mann hit a two-out single through the left side.
It was snuffed out two pitches later, plucked out of the air by the TCU shortstop and extinguished at second base.
“It hits right away,” Taylor said. “The ride’s over, and you want the ride to go on as long as you can. I probably would have cried even if we won the national championship, just because you know the ride’s over. But I had so much fun with these guys. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year, other than to win it all.”
Players said the way this season ended was not any more gut-wrenching than the losses in seasons past.
It was just different.
“They all have their own feelings,” Summers said. “I just keep them in the past. It certainly hurts every year when this happens, but I’m looking forward to what this program is going to do in the future.”
Reporter Danielle Lerner can be reached at email@example.com or 502-582-4042.
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