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Jackets sting Cards 8-5 in Regional opener

Note: This was supposed to be published this morning, but I'm still figuring out how to work these new gadgets

I could distinctly detect the taste vomit when I initially thought of the above headline, but it's been a rough couple of days, so writing it was sort of like the blogging equivalent of drinking heavily or listening to sad music.

In its biggest game of the season, the Louisville baseball team looked undeniably apprehensive as it squandered a golden opportunity to put itself in prime position to capture a Regional title for the second straight season.

The Cards belted three home runs and outhit Georgia Tech 12-10, but costly errors and mental mistakes at inopportune moments led to an 8-5 defeat in an opening round game at the Athens (Ga.) Regional.

The collective feeling of each member of the Cardinal faithful who took in the game was summed up by head coach Dan McDonnell afterwards.

"I am not going to lie - this is very disappointing," he said. "We just didn't play very well."

The Jackets took the lead in the opening frame, managing to put a dent in the first column on the scoreboard before doing anything with the second. Louisville starter Justin Marks walked Tech leadoff man Charlie Blackmon, and then allowed him to advance to second by throwing a wild pitch moments later. After retiring Jay Dantzler, the usually alert Marks fell asleep and allowed Blackmon to swipe third base with ease. A sacrifice fly by Luke Murton then made the score 1-0.

Marks settled down in the second, but the uneasiness of the defense behind him was on full display.

After retiring the first two hitters of the inning, Marks induced an easy roller up the middle from Jason Haniger, but the ball was bobbled by Cardinal shortstop John Dao. Patrick Long was then fooled by an offspeed pitch and hit lazy fly ball into short right field, but a charging Stewart Ijames inexplicably pulled up and allowed the ball to drop harmlessly in front of him. A Blackmon single then made it 2-0.

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Georgia Tech starter David Duncan was having an easy go of it until the sixth inning, when he made a pair of mistakes against Louisville's two hottest sluggers. With one out and one on, red hot Justin McClanahan blasted a 1-2 offering over the left field fence to knot the game at two. Moments later it was co-Big East Player of the Year Chris Dominguez hitting a rocket over the wall in left center to give the Cards their first lead.

Tech bounced right back in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases with one out and chasing Marks. Freshman Thomas Royse entered the game and was promptly given a scare, as pinch hitter Thomas Nichols ripped a line shot that ended up harmlessly in the glove of Dominguez.. Royse appeared to be out of the jam when Blackmon hit a hard ground ball right at McClanahan, but the second baseman bobbled it and then made an errant throw from his knees, allowing two runs to score and giving the Yellow Jackets a lead they would not relinquish.

"I've been hitting the ball really well," McClanahan said. "But looking back, I won't even remember that. I should have come up with the ball, I was too hesitant."

The Yellow Jackets scored three more runs in the seventh, thanks mostly to a two-run bomb off the bat of Haniger. McClanahan answered with a solo shot in the top of the eighth, but an error by Ijames in the home half of the inning allowed Tech to push the lead back to four.

The Cards made things interesting in the ninth, as Andrew Clark and Phil Wunderlich opened the inning with a single and a double, respectively. Drew Haynes then scored Clark with a sacrifice fly to get the deficit back to three. With two outs and the big bats of McClanahan and Dominguez yearning for an opportunity to prolong the game, Josh Richmond capped an 0-for-5 day by popping up the first pitch he saw to the first baseman.

There have certainly been more painful and deflating Cardinal losses over the past year, but this one was about as frustrating as it gets. Losing a game when you throw your ace and your three and four hitters combine for three home runs is brutal, but especially so when there's this much on the line.

Louisville is now staring down a gauntlet of four elimination games in three days, beginning this afternoon at 3 p.m. against top seed and host Georgia. This is the type of situation where you have to have veterans step up, and if ever there were a time for Zack Pitts to break out of his recent funk, it'd be (did you guess it?) right now.

It's time to see what these guys are made of.