There's not likely to be a bigger surprise from the first week of the college baseball postseason than the one the Louisville Cardinals just gave the world. If only that were a good thing.
Winners of 16 straight and entering the Big East Tournament with a No. 8 national ranking, the Cardinals were the heavy favorites to take care of business against an eight-team field that didn't include another NCAA Tournament lock. Instead, following a 9-1 trouncing at the hands of Rutgers on Thursday night, U of L is two and out in Clearwater for the first time since the program joined the Big East in 2006.
"Sometimes in baseball you get your butt kicked," coach Dan McDonnell said after the game. "Tonight was our turn."
We're competitors. We came down here to play good baseball and try to win this tournament. It's very disappointing. There's many teams that go to Omaha (for the College World Series) that didn't win their conference tournament. We're going to take advantage of a great week of practice. This is a confident group."
Despite finishing fifth in the conference, Rutgers was one of only two Big East teams to take a series from Louisville during the regular season. They had also been the last squad to beat No. 1 Cardinal starter Chad Green (9-3), doing so via a 6-2 win all the way back on March 22.
It was more of the same for the Scarlet Knights against Green on Thursday, as RU pounced on U of L right out of the gate, scoring four runs on five hits in the home half of the first inning. Charlie Law made sure the Cards never had a chance to get back into the game, holding Louisville scoreless all the way into the 9th inning. The nine runs are the second most the Cards have surrendered this season.
Due to U of L's surprisingly early exit, the Big East Tournament will now be played in full without the conference Pitcher of the Year throwing one pitch, as Louisville's Jeff Thompson (9-1) did not toe the rubber for the Cardinals in either game.
McDonnell and company will now have three days to sit back and think about things before the NCAA Tournament field is unveiled on Sunday. The consensus seems to be that while Louisville did about the only thing it could have done to play its way out of a national seed, the Cardinals will still more than likely host a regional at Jim Patterson Stadium next weekend.