I'm still not entirely sure how it happened, but the Louisville baseball team saw its season end with a 4-3 extra inning loss to Cal State Fullerton Monday night. No Omaha, no College World Series, no national championship pursuit.
This ranks right near the top of heartbreaking season-ending losses in my eyes for a handful of reasons: you've got the remarkably controversial call, you've got the feeling that Louisville was never really in danger until that call happened, and then you have the fact that this Cardinal team could have won a national title. Add all that together and it's understandable to still be hurting this afternoon.
Wayne still didn't foul him.— Trevor Joelson (@MountTrevorest) June 9, 2015
Ball came two feet from me. Passed the foul ball pole in Foul territory. Bending the whole way but passed Foul.— Dave Stone (@DaveStone920) June 9, 2015
Replay lies apparently.— Logan Johnson (@lmjcard32) June 9, 2015
@CardChronicle I'm sitting right by the foul poll that ball is all the way foul.. it never touched the poll— Layne Williams (@LayneWill71) June 9, 2015
I talked with the ESPN announcers after the game, who not only said they believed the ball was foul, but that the head umpire believed the ball was foul. So why was it called fair? Two replay guys in Atlanta had the final say, and their final say was fair ball, 100%. Not even that it hit the foul pole, but that it was just conclusively a fair ball.
Tim Sullivan has much more on the call, how it was determined, and quotes from multiple people who were sitting directly behind the pole.
I was upset about the call last night, and a handful of people responded by saying that Louisville "deserved" to have that call go against them because of their inability to execute with runners in scoring position in the previous innings. I've never understood this logic, and it seems to come up quite often.
Say a family man is hanging out in a shady night club way after hours when he's supposed to be home watching his kids. A murder goes down, and the man is wrongly charged with being apart of it in some capacity. Should he have been in that place at that time? No, but that doesn't excuse the erroneous charge.
I'm also not sure why talking about officiating has become so taboo. It is an enormous part of any athletic contest, and to simply dismiss any discussion of it with "stop crying," "it shouldn't have been that close anyway" or some other modern cliché seems silly. If you're going to engage in the activity of dissecting a 40-minute basketball contest or a 9-inning baseball game then I'm not sure why everything is fair game other than this one pretty big thing that "doesn't need to be brought up."
Regardless of how well or how poorly two teams are playing, they both "deserve" the correct calls to be made when they are apparent. I don't think it's fair to say that the home run call in the 11th inning cost Louisville the game last night, but I also think it's silly to say that the call shouldn't be discussed at all.
More upsetting than the inability to bunt guys over, the base-running mistakes and even the home run call (to me, at least) was the pitch Jerrod Bravo hit off Zack Burdi to tie the game at 3 in the 8th inning. Burdi had already poured in 3 98/99 mph strikes, and Bravo had been a mile late on the two of those pitches that he'd offered at. The only explanation for Burdi speeding up Bravo's bat by leaving a slider right out over the plate with his next pitch is that he was trying to put that ball in the dirt. Otherwise, the pitch makes no sense. If a dude can hit a triple digit fastball, make him prove it.
College baseball programs typically exist in three-year cycles. First, you bring in an elite crop of youngsters and throw them directly into the fire and hope they can rise to the occasion. In year two, you hope that those players have accrued the experience necessary to compete for a conference title and maybe make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Year three is the year. That's when you shoot for Omaha and, if you're among the nation's elite, a national title. After that, all your key juniors and seniors head off to play the game for pay and you begin the cycle all over again.
The funny thing about the past two seasons for Louisville is that they were supposed to be years one and two of the cycle. The last "big year" was 2013, and the Cards weren't expected to be a major player on the national scene again until 2016.
Two of Louisville's three starting pitchers will be back next season, including cleanup hitter and College Baseball News National Freshman of the Year Brendan McKay. Leading hitter Corey Ray will be a junior with All-American expectations, and regional MVP Devin Hairston will hope to carry the momentum from his stellar postseason into his sophomore year. Nick Solak, Will Smith, Logan Taylor, and Zack Burdi? All back as well.
Guys like Kyle Funkhouser and Sutton Whiting did incredible things for this program and will be sorely missed next season, but Louisville baseball isn't going anywhere.
The worst part about all this, for me, is that I never saw it coming. I thought the fellas might be up against it with Eshelman on the hill, but that they'd be able to take care of business the next two days. The thought of dropping the series was never real until the home run in the 11th; in my mind, there was no doubt that we'd have at least another week of baseball to look forward to.
Now, just like that, the season is over, and so to is the 2014-15 book of Cardinal athletics. The length of time between now and Sept. 5 is more apparent and brutal than it was 24 hours ago, and that sucks.
The dead period is officially here. Let's get weird.