If Louisville wants to become the champ, it'll have to get off the mat of its own super regional to do so.
The heavily favored Cardinals, who are sporting "Ali" patches on their caps this weekend after the passing of their city's athletic and cultural legend, were punched around by a feisty UC Santa Barbara club in the opening game of the Louisville Regional, losing 4-2. The Gauchos landed a flurry of blows in the middle innings against ace Brendan McKay and kept the powerful Cardinals lineup off balance with a seven-strikeout, seven-inning gem from their own starter, Shane Bieber.
Bieber (yep, that's his name) surrendered eight hits over seven innings, but rarely allowed those hits to be strung together for scoring combos. Outside of a solo homer in the second and a pair of two-out knocks in the sixth, Louisville's sluggers weren't able to do much of consequence. UCSB closer Kyle Nelson worked an unblemished eighth and ninth for the six-out save.
Santa Barbara sandwiched a two-run fourth between one-run innings in the third and fifth. The biggest swing came from Austin Bush—the same guy who ended a 14-inning regional game against Washington with a walkoff homer—who lifted a solo shot to take the lead in the fourth.
Muhammad Ali had long been heavily involved with the Louisville baseball program—his son, Asaad, played for the Cards from 2009-2012 and just this year the family established a scholarship to be awarded annually to a member of the team.
"Even through this sad time, there's been a lot of correspondence back and forth between myself and the Ali family, and I've shared that with the team," head coach Dan McDonnell said earlier this week, according our Louisville blog, Card Chronicles. "Lonnie (Ali's widow) is closely following us, and that's a nice distraction to keep her mind off other things. She's made it clear that they plan on being with us in Omaha next weekend, and we hope to hold up our end of that bargain."
To do so, the tournament favorites will have to channel the resilience of their city's greatest champ to win consecutive games against a Gauchos club that's not shying away from a fight.
Arizona 6, Mississippi State 5 (11 innings)
Arizona wins the Starkville Super, 2-0
The Bulldogs were up 5-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth, cruising to a series-tying win. But Arizona got a three-run homer from Ryan Aguilar to pull within one, then tied the game in the bottom of the ninth to send it to extras. Two frames later, freshman Cesar Salazar came up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded...
Arizona Baseball is going to Omaha! Cesar Salazar WALKS OFF pic.twitter.com/pWYDrwx64a— Ari Alexander (@AriA1exander) June 12, 2016
You could make a strong argument that Arizona was the least likely of the 16 super regional teams to advance. Instead, the Wildcats become the first to book their tickets to Omaha.
Texas Tech 3, ECU 1 (13 innings)
Lubbock Super is tied, 1-1
The Big 12 Player of the Year was 2-for-24 in the NCAA Tourney and 0 for his last 16 when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the top of the 13th inning. But Eric Gutierrez broke out of his slump in a big way, ripping a two-RBI single up the middle to keep the No. 5 national seed's Omaha dreams alive.
The bullpens turned this into a stalemate after ECU evened it up in the bottom of the sixth, with Tech's Robert Dugger and ECU's Joe Ingle each throwing a scoreless five frames as the game stretched into extras. Sitting on 82 pitches, Ingle finally left the mound after the 12th, giving the Red Raiders a chance to mount their rally.
Florida State 3, Florida 0
FSU leads the Gainesville Super, 1-0
Noles starter Drew Carlton was the story of this one. The same guy who gave up five earned runs to Alabama State in the regional opener shut out mighty Florida with a 114-pitch, complete-game performance that broke up a five-game losing streak to the Gators—one that stretched back to last year's super regional. Carlton, who came in allowing over one run per inning pitched and toting a 4.36 ERA, allowed just two hits and retired the last 19 Gators he faced.
With Florida, Louisville and LSU going down on Saturday, super regional hosts went just 1-6 in Game 1s this weekend.
Texas A&M 7, TCU 1
College Station Super tied, 1-1
For the second straight year, a super between A&M and TCU is going to to a Game 3. The Aggie offense, which was held to just two runs in Game 1, homered on the first at-bat of the game and never looked back. Meanwhile, Kyle Simonds preserved the bullpen by throwing 7.2 innings of one-hit ball, allowing just four hits while striking out six.
Boston College 5, Miami 3
Coral Gables Super is tied, 1-1
BC just won't go away. A three-seed that won the Oxford Regional after Ole Miss fell by the wayside, the Eagles have now pushed the No. 3 national seed to a rubber game in Coral Gables. The big inning was the fourth, when BC pushed four runs across thanks in part to a pair of Miami errors. Mitch Bigras went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a strong bullpen effort from Jesse Adams and Bobby Skogsbergh snuffed out any hopes of a Canes rally.
Coastal Carolina 11, LSU 8
Coastal leads the Baton Rouge Super, 1-0
Down 4-2 in the top of the sixth, the Chants scored seven unanswered, including back-to-back homers in the top of the seventh.
when things aren't going so well pic.twitter.com/D8B4tNVOyo— jim lohmar (@jimlohmar) June 12, 2016
Look on the bright side, LSU fans: at least you're not this ball girl.
Oklahoma State 5, South Carolina 1
OSU leads the Columbia Super, 1-0
With all of the attention focused on Texas Tech's national seed hunt and TCU's improbable run to the conference title, the Big 12's third NCAA Tournament team has flown a bit under the radar. It's time to start paying attention. OK State, having already swept the Clemson Regional, is now 4-0 in tournament games.
They haven't been sneaking by teams either: the Hokies beat Nebraska 6-0 in their regional opener, then outscored national seed Clemson 21-4 in two games to clinch a super regional trip. On Saturday, they held the Gamecocks to just six hits and didn't allow a run until the ninth inning. Most of that work can be credited to Thomas Hatch, who admitted just six baserunners through seven frames.