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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Field Hockey Falls in Heartbreaker; Softball Homers Early and Often -- SATURDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

Michigan Tops Louisville in Sudden Death Shootout

After a lengthy weather delay in Game 1, Louisville and Michigan took the field in Chapel Hill to play for the right to take on UNC in the national championship game on Sunday. They played 60 minutes and decided that wasn't enough, so they went for another 20. That still wasn't enough, so they rolled out five players to for the shootout. Stop me if you've heard this before: that still wasn't enough. After moving to the sudden victory shootout period, Michigan was finally able to take the win with an unmatched goal. A heartbreaking end to a long season for the Cards, but they have become a national power. They finished their year with an ACC regular season trophy from the fall season and made it to their first national semifinal. Coach Sowry will continue to keep the team among the upper echelon of ACC and NCAA teams and the only question is when will that first national title come.

As for the actual game, there was plenty of excitement to go around. Much ado was made about the offenses of these two teams before and during the game, but it was the defenses that came to play yesterday. Michigan was averaging 13 shots per game and had outscored their opponents 25-2 over their last ten games. Louisville, on the other hand, had taken 44 shots over their last three games and scored eight goals in that time. All of that said, you can imagine everyone's surprise when the two teams combined for just a single shot in the first half of the game. 

In the first period, neither team was able to get a ton of pressure on the other. The defenses, as noted, had come to play and they were keeping the offenses largely out of the circle. With about four minutes left in the first, Mercedes Pastor got ahold of a ball on the baseline and drove toward goal. She went to flip the ball back toward the top of the circle when it flew into the air. She appealed for a corner, but the play was ruled a dangerous hit by Pastor and Michigan was awarded the ball. Pastor appealed her case, and Coach Sowry officially referred it for review. On the review, it was clear that the ball was not hit above the waist and only got their by rocketing off the top of a Michigan shinguard, leading most to believe Louisville would earn their corner after all. Unfortunately, the umpires ruled that the ball was hit directly at the player and upheld the dangerous hit. The Cards lost their only referral of the game and the first period ended without much more excitement.

Four minutes into the second period, Louisville got their first opportunity with a penalty corner. Alli Bitting played the ball in and it worked its way around the top to Charlie van Oirschot. CvO's shot was wide of the mark and the Cards were 0-1 on corners (the significance of this will become clear later). The next seven minutes was more of the same: one team would work toward the offensive end, appear to threaten, and have that threat snuffed out by great defense. With just under four minutes remaining in the half, Michigan got their first chance by earning a corner of their own. The ball was unable to be cleanly fielded at the top of the circle, and the Wolverines couldn't get a shot off. The teams went to the half tied at zero.

The Wolverines came out of the half ready to attack on offense. Just three minutes in, they earned their first shot of the game, forcing a save from Sam Minrath. Half a minute later, Michigan's Katie Anderson earned a green card and was sent off for two minutes. That didn't deter the Michigan offense, though, who went on to earn another penalty corner while playing a player down. That corner saw a shot rifled form the top of the circle that no one had a chance of getting in front of. Minrath dove across the goal but was too late as the ball hit the back of the cage with such force that it bounced halfway back out of the circle. Michigan had scored their ninth straight goal in all competitions and led 1-0. A few minutes later, it was Louisville who saw themselves go down a player and Michigan threatened to extend their lead. The Cards were able to fight out of the pressure and get the ball back into the offensive third when a wild slide tackle saw Tina D'Anjolell earn a 10-minute yellow card. Louisville was unable to take advantage of the deficit, and they headed to the fourth still trailing.

The fourth quarter was all Louisville. The Cards earned their first corner of the quarter just three minutes in. It was blocked but it took just a couple more minutes to earn another. This one was saved and Louisville was now 0-3 on corners. They weren't done, though. The Cards went on to take three more corners over the next five minutes, all blocked or saved, to put Louisville at 0-6 on corners and running them out of time. With four minutes left, Coach Sowry pulled Sam Minrath from the field, giving the Cards an extra offensive player and leaving them without a goalie. With just a minute and a half left, they earned another corner, their seventh of the game, and finally found the back of the cage when Emilia Kaczmarczyk deflected Minna Tremonti's shot into the goal. Minrath came back in and the two teams battled at 1-1 for the remaining minute.

Overtime in field hockey is always golden goal. To indicate this clearly, they put on the broadcast "NEXT GOAL WINS" in a big yellow box. It's very distracting. Anyway, in addition to the stress of being on edge, the teams also drop players, going to just six field players for each side. Two ten-minute periods are played, with a shoot-out looming if the score remains tied. The Cards held possession for much of the first overtime, with a Minna Tremonti shot going wide of the cage and the team earning a corner shortly after. The penalty corner is not as much of a threat with fewer offensive players. Because of the structure of the reduced squads, the defending team can afford to bring everyone back to defend, but the offensive team can't really give up the opportunity for an undefended breakaway. As such, Louisville's corner was snuffed out without a shot. In the second overtime, the roles were reversed. Michigan put huge pressure on the Cards, ultimately taking five shots and forcing three Minrath saves. They also earned two corners, and were a bit more threatening than Louisville on those. The Louisville defense was able to hold up, though, and the ball stayed out of the cage.

That took us to the shoot-out. Unlike soccer, where the shots are taken directly at the goalie one-on-one, the shoot-out in field hockey is structured like that of ice hockey. The offensive player takes control of the ball and has eight seconds or until the ball goes out of play to try and score. Michigan was up first and made short work of Sam Minrath, forcing her to go down early and finding the open cage to score. Katie Schneider was up first for the Cards and her shot was blocked, then chased down by Spieker and knocked away. A referral was made that Spieker illegally used the backside of her stick on the play, and it went to review. After a lengthy review, it was ruled that Spieker did commit an unintentional foul, and Schneider got another opportunity. She sunk this one home and the score was tied. The next two Michigan players did about the same thing as the first to Minrath and Louisville found themselves unable to score on Spieker, who was playing fantastically. Louisville trailed 3-1 as they moved to the fourth shooters. A Michigan goal or Louisville miss would end the game. Minrath stepped up. She got a big block to bring up CvO in the fourth spot who calmly snuck by Spieker to score. One round of elimination avoided. With the game once again on the line, Minrath came up with another huge stop, but the ball bounced right back to the attacker. Reacting quickly, Minrath was able to block the second shot to bring Pastor to the line for the Cards. Cool as you like, Meche attacked Spieker directly, turning it past her and in for the goal.

That moved the teams to a golden goal shootout. If the score isn't tied after a pair of shooters, it's game over. In field hockey, the same players must be used, and this is where I question having van Oirschot and Pastor so far down the list. Louisville was up first and Katie Schneider's shot was unfortunately wide. Minrath's heroics were used up at the end of the first round and she was beaten for a goal. After a brief bit of confusion, it was announced: game over. 

The Cards' season comes to a close after a tough battle and a tough spring. Louisville was a fantastic team in the fall and just had a few bad breaks in the spring, including in their loss yesterday. Like I mentioned before, this was a successful season. It's hard to feel that way right after it ends without a championship but I'm convinced it will come. We'll see it when we see it.

Softball Beats UNC in Game 1

The Cards opened their final regular season series with the sixth seed in the ACC tournament on the line. A couple of wins against the Tarheels and a few wins by Duke against NC State would give the Cards the better path in the ACC tournament and more of an opportunity to qualify for the NCAA field. They got off to a good start yesterday.

Louisville chased UNC's starter in the first inning, as Carmyn Greenwood and Maddy Newman opened with back-to-back singles and Taylor Roby sent a no-doubter over the left field wall. 3-0 Cards and we hadn't even seen an out. Makayla Hurst hit a hard grounder to the third baseman but was thrown out, before Rebecca Chung was hit by a pitch. The HBP is what ultimately sent Katie Grace Olinger to the dugout, and Charley Butler welcomed Gaby Katz to the game with another no-doubter to the same spot as Roby's. The video of both homeruns shows the left fielder stopping in about the same spot to watch the balls go over the wall. A pair of groundouts ended the inning.

Those four runs given up in one third of an inning by Olinger were enough to hand her the loss as Louisville never yielded the lead. UNC rallied a couple of times, once to chase Roby after 3.2 innings at 7-4 and once more to make it 9-7 in the sixth inning on Leonhardt. Louisville's offense remained up to the task, though, ultimately giving the Cards a 12-7 victory. 

The fourth inning saw Louisville score a pair of unearned runs on a throwing error by the second baseman on a Newman hit. That extended Louisville's lead to 7-1. In the fifth, Leonhardt helped her own case by swatting a two-run homer to stretch to a 9-4 lead after Roby had given up a few and been chased. Their last runs came in the seventh, after UNC had once more closed the gap. Jenna Servi (what a good time for an offensive renaissance by her these last couple of weeks) singled in Leonhardt before she was brought in on another two-run homer, this time by Carmyn Greenwood.

Louisville will hope to continue the offensive fireworks, perhaps with fewer from the opposition, as the weekend goes on. The Cards and Heels will play on today and a double-header tomorrow, with today's game getting underway at 5:30 PM. Tune in to the ACC Network Extra for all of the exciting matchups as Louisville works to get it's postseason resume in shape.

Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast

The Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast returns after a week off for Derby, but I won't be a part this week. It's a really busy season, as I'm set to miss four of the next five weeks for various events. You'll be in good hands, as always, as the rest of the crew brings you the joy and excitement of Louisville women's athletics. Tune in to the Cardinal Couple YouTube Channel at 11AM for the live show, or check out the recording on YouTube after it airs. We'll work to bring you the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast as we're able, but if we're unable to get it up, the YouTube version is your best bet. 

Until next time, Go Cards!

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