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Saturday, May 20, 2023

Cards Drop Game One of NCAA Tournament -- SATURDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

Two Late Homers Not Enough in 4-3 Loss

Korbe Otis got things started in the "Home Run Regional" almost as quickly as she could have, smoking a line drive shot over the center field wall to lead off the game. The only way it could have been any faster is if she had done it on the first pitch of the at-bat instead of the third. Easton Lotus got ahold of her third pitch as well, sending it down the left field line past third for a single. Two more hard hit balls in the inning would come next, but their results would be less than ideal. Taylor Roby sent one hard to the shortstop and got a terrible break out of the batter's box. The shortstop was fielding the ball before Roby crossed the plate, leading to an easy 6-4-3 double-play. Sarah Gordon tested the short stop again with another fast grounder, but the ball once more out ran her to first.

Yesterday's game was quite the different start for the Cards than their first matchup against IU. The cast of characters were largely the same. Brianna Copeland was in the circle for the Hoosiers in the top of the first inning with Alyssa Zabala taking the position in the bottom half. The offense wasn't on hand that evening in early April, though. Otis, Lotus, and Gordon hit three straight groundouts to let Copeland off the hook after just 15 pitches. The bottom half was also a bit better for Louisville. In the first game, a 10-5 IU victory, the Hoosiers scored three in the bottom of each of the first two innings, holding a 6-1 lead after two. 

Zabala opened the bottom half of yesterday's game with a three-pitch strikeout. She followed that up with a first-pitch HBP to put a runner on first. In real time, I commented that the pitch looked awfully close to the zone (implying the batter was leaning over the plate), but no replay was shown. For what it's worth (not much), a couple of innings later, the announcers praised how Kern crowds the plate and dares pitchers to throw inside. The NCAA rule clarifies that a base is not awarded if a pitch is in the zone or if the pitch is not completely in the batter's box and the batter does not make any attempt to avoid being hit. So... yeah. Anyway, with a runner on first and one out, a full-count single put runners on first a second. A ball into the outfield was to a hard-charging Otis, but her throw home was cutoff to hold the trailing runner at second. Tie game. Zabala continued to find the bats, this time to her counterpart Copeland, but Ally Alexander was on hand at third to glove the grounder and turn it into a nifty double play to limit the damage.

Copeland settled in in the second, sitting the Cards down 1-2-3 to bring her offense back to the plate. Once more, Zabala opened the inning with an out, but she gave up a free base (this time a walk) and back-to-back singles again to score another run. A flyout to Pickle Winkler (who has a cannon) prevented any hope of a sacrifice, but a full-count walk to Kern loaded the bases. Zabala was able to induce a grounder right back to the circle to get out of the jam, but her toss over to first very nearly pulled Hannah File from the bag, which would have been a disastrous error to continue the inning. Fortunately, File completed the stretch and the Cards headed back to the dugout.

What followed in the third can only be described as both very odd and (likely) very impactful. Alexander and Paige Geraghty lined out and struck out to give the Cards two quick outs while turning over the order. Korbe Otis singled and then successfully stole her 22nd base on 22 attempts this season. In response, the Hoosiers walked Easton Lotus. This was definitely a choice that was available to them, bringing up one of the top home run hitters in the country, but it was the choice they made. As it turned out, it didn't matter who was at the plate. On the first (or second - it's blurry) pitch, the IU catcher threw behind Otis at second and caught her completely asleep on the base paths. In a pickle, Otis had nowhere to go and ran hard at third but was easily tagged out to end the inning.

Then it got worse. Facing the heart of the order for the second time, the bats came to play against Zabala. We talked a bit on the show last week about how Zabala has been more efficient in getting outs but she has been more susceptible to throwing a meatball. Meatball number one of the inning came against the first batter, who sent one to straightaway center. Korbe Otis leaped at the wall, and the ball appeared to bounce off the top of the wall or her head or something before hitting a sign beyond the wall and coming back into the field of play. A home run was called and there was a brief conversation between Otis, Aprile, and an umpire. I'm not sure what their argument was, unless they just didn't see it clearly. The ball definitely left the field of play before returning, as it hit what I believe was the same sign Otis's homer bounced off of in the first. Unless there's a rule I'm unaware of that a ball off a leaping defender is a GRD instead of a home run, there wasn't much to discuss. IU led 3-1. The second meatball came three pitches later and there was no discussion about this one. Copeland (who the announcers had been sure to tell us absolutely dominated the entire team in the weight room) sent one over all the signage and nearly to the train tracks in left center field. 4-1 Hoosiers and the end of Zabala's day.

Taylor Roby came in to pitch and immediately got a grounder to pick up what looked like the first out of the inning. Unlike the end of the second, the umpire wasn't as generous with File's stretch, though, and ruled that Daisy Hess's throw had pulled her off the bag. Roby kept her head down, worked the next batter, and got another ground ball sent to Hess. This time, Hess calmly hit Lotus at second who turned and fired for the double-play. No harm done on the error. A pop-out to Hess fully redeemed her and the inning was over. 

The weird baserunning error in the top of the third wasn't done affecting Louisville. Since Roby didn't officially have an at-bat, she returned to the box in the top of the fourth - this time as the pitcher instead of the designated player. She fouled away the first pitch and then checked her swing on the second. As she trotted to first, ESPN scrambled for a replay while IU began their arguments. The umpires conferred, determining that Roby had both held up the swing and that the ball had not hit the bat. They needed only to look at Louisville's ace at first sorely trying to work her pitching hand. Pickle Winkler headed to first to pinch run and Roby headed to the bullpen. Sarah Gordon fouled out (although Copeland very nearly dropped it), and Hannah File singled up the middle. A fielder's choice kept runners on first and second for Louisville but gave them two outs. Makayla Hurst pinch hit and sent a floater into center field. As the lead runner with two outs, File (a sixth-year senior) knew very well that her job was to run on contact. That said, she didn't do it. It happens. File hesitated briefly before leaving second, and, as a result, had to retreat to third after a big turn rather than easily scoring on the play. Alexander grounded hard to second base, but it was fielded cleanly and the inning was over. Louisville still trailed 4-1.

Despite everyone's fears, Roby returned to the circle for the bottom of the inning. She forced a line-out and a ground-out before a double put another runner in scoring position. Another ground out ended the inning and Louisville was still clinging on to touching distance. A three-up three-down inning didn't do much to boost their confidence. However, Roby remained dialed in. She again got two quick outs before allowing a base hit. Once more, a grounder ended the inning. As she did a couple of innings prior, Roby led off the inning. This time, she didn't fuss around with an HBP. She smoked a ball to left center, aiming for the general area that Copeland had sent one earlier. She didn't quite get it there, but the result was the same: 4-2. Copeland responded with a pair of strikeouts before getting a ground out from Hess to end the inning.

Image from UofL Athletics
With the bottom of the order up, a pop-out gave Louisville a quick advantage by getting the first out before the top of the order. It was critical, too, as a bunt single and a single up the middle put two runners on with 3-4-5 due up. A foul out from Kern (who had been on base in each of her first three at-bats) and a strikeout from Minnick (who was now alone in second in home runs after Roby moved into a tie for first) ended the inning. The seventh inning saw Louisville hit their third lead-off home run of the game. This time it was Vanessa Miller, and it was her first home run of the season. Alexander grounded out before Maddi Grant drew a pinch-hit walk. Louisville looked to have the momentum with the top of the order up, but they couldn't pass the bat. Korbe Otis hit a grounder to third for a fielder's choice and Easton Lotus grounded out to second on a 3-1 pitch to end the game. 

Louisville's loss was their fifth straight, though there is a bit of a caveat to go along with that. The first three of this current skid came on the road at Florida State. The last loss was at the ACC tournament in the 4-5 game of a single-elimination bracket and they should have tied the game after trailing by six if not for a questionable call at the plate. In this game, Louisville was not favored. It was a rematch against a team that has already beaten them. That said, they had the chance to win this game. They gave up too much on the defensive end and they made mistakes on offense in key moments. We're to the point now where it is win or go home. Louisville must win four straight games in two days if they want to advance out of the regional. At least two of those wins would need to come against a team they will have already played in the regional (IU two more times or IU once and Tennessee once). 

There's no time to look ahead, though. If Louisville wants to stay alive, they can only do so one game at a time. The first opponent is NKU, who Louisville has already beaten twice this year. The Norse, who stunned everyone by winning the Horizon League championship to make the tournament after a 19-29 regular season, were no hit by Tennessee yesterday in a five-inning 12-0 run rule. NKU gave up one run in the first and none in the second before Tennessee exploded for six in the third and five in the fourth. On offense, they drew two walks and struck out for 9/15 outs. Louisville defeated NKU way back in March when they opened Ulmer with the Cardinal Classic. The home opener was a 7-0 win, and Louisville bounced back from a pair of losses to Northwestern by closing the weekend with a 2-0 victory. 

It's anyone's guess who will get the start for the Cards today. I'd say it's likely to be Zabala, since she pitched fewer innings yesterday. However, it's not like Roby isn't used to going on short rest. Roby, who pitched four innings yesterday compared to Zabala's 2+, pitched six full innings against NKU in the first game while Zabala tossed a complete game in the second. It's important to note that the regional is set up for all of the loser's bracket games to be played today rather than one tomorrow morning, so that will likely play into the pitching decision. Louisville's first game today is set for 3:30PM or 35 minutes after the conclusion of the first game of the day (1PM). The final elimination game is scheduled for 6PM or 35 minutes after the conclusion of the 3:30 game. If Louisville can make quick work of the Norse and get a longer break, that would surely be welcome. All of today's games will be on ESPN+ only. 

Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast

We're without Daryl this week as she participates in a golf scramble that may see more beers consumed in the clubhouse than balls hit on the course. Four should be plenty to cover yesterday's matchup and preview today's game, though, plus get into who knows what else. As always, you can check out the live stream of the show by going to the Cardinal Couple YouTube page and clicking on the live video. Jeff usually creates that about an hour before the show, which officially starts at 11 AM Eastern. If the live time doesn't work for you, there are plenty of playback options, so be sure to check out whichever is best for you!

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Until next time, Go Cards!


1 comment:

  1. Are you all EVER going to play? LOL.

    We looked good today with Cagle in the circle. Didn't think Auburn would go down that easy.

    Long day, I'll probably fall asleep watching you all on my laptop. We get it again tomorrow. Cuz ate, and is snoring in the bed next to me here in the hotel. LOL. NO RAIN, PLEASE !

    Your friend
    #1 Clemson Fan
    Greer, SC


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