The Louisville baseball team took a huge step towards hosting an NCAA Tournament regional for a second straight year by going down to Nashville and knocking off No. 10 Vanderbilt 11-7 Tuesday night.
The win was also significant in that it extended U of L's current winning streak to 11 games -- the second longest in program history -- and allowed the Cardinals to bring the rivalry barrel back to Louisville for the first time. Vanderbilt had been the owner of the trophy since the "Battle for the Barrel" became an official thing in 2012.
Tuesday night's game was a far cry from last year's Super Regional at Hawkins Field, which saw the two teams combine for 11 runs in U of L's two-game sweep. On this night, the Cards and Commodores busted out the bats to the tune of 23 hits and 18 runs. When the dust cleared, Louisville had earned its third straight win in Nashville, a place where Dan McDonnell's program had been 0-13 before last June.
U of L jumped on Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler right out of the gate, scoring three runs in an opening frame that was highlighted by a two-run bomb from third baseman Alex Chittenden. Senior Jeff Gardner then added the first of his three RBI to fully set the tone.
Buehler had entered the game with a 1.49 ERA and an 8-1 record, but exited the game after allowing a season-high seven earned runs over just 2 2/3 innings.
Vanderbilt answered with a grand slam in the home half of the first and continued to play long ball to stay in the game, but Louisville always had a response. Cole Sturgeon played a large part in that, ripping three doubles and finishing with four runs scored.
The Cards now turn their focus to a weekend series at Temple and the AAC title regular season title race. Louisville (37-11, 14-4) currently leads second place Central Florida (29-18, 16-5) by percentage points in the standings, but U of L has played three fewer conference games than the Golden Knights, and dropped two of three games in Orlando last month.
Both teams will wrap up their regular seasons two weekends from now, Louisville at home against Cincinnati, and UCF on the road against Connecticut.
As has been the trend in recent years, the Cards are hitting their stride at the perfect time, and even if you don't care for the game of baseball, this is going to be worth paying attention to. There's going to be one last national championship pursuit in Louisville before the start of the ACC era.