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College World Series: The run that got away

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By ANNIE MOORE
College Contributor Network

The College World Series is in full swing, but one team you won't see in Omaha this Summer is surprising to many. The Louisville Cardinals baseball team was hot all season. The Cards breezed through their first regular season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, setting a conference record with 25 wins in the conference schedule. Louisville powered through its regional, after being awarded the No. 3 overall seed in the postseason, the highest in program history. When it came time for the super regional, Louisville was set to face Cal State Fullerton in a three-game series at home to head to Omaha for the third year in a row.

The stage seemed to be set for a fairytale run for Louisville. The pitching staff was firing on all cylinders. National freshman of the year, Brendan McKay was putting on performances worthy of his award. The No. 11 Titans from CSF would surely just be another pit stop on the road to Omaha for the Cards. But when the dust settled after an extra-inning showdown on Monday night, that road was leading the Cardinals one place, back home.

Fullerton came out with something to prove in the first game on Saturday. The Titans outlasted Louisville in extra innings. Despite a homer from senior Mike White to even the score in the bottom of the ninth, Fullerton edged ahead and took the first game 3-2 in 10 innings.

CardNation took a step back, maybe this was going to be a little harder than they anticipated. But it was nothing this team couldn't handle. This team that had a 43-16 overall record during the season, the team that won the ACC regular season championship in its first season in the league.

The Sluggers from Louisville were fired up for Sunday's game and racked up 16 hits to tie the series at 1-1. McKay was on the mound and had nine punchouts in Louisville's 9-3 victory. That win forced the winner-take-all game on Monday night.

Jim Patterson stadium was full to capacity when the first pitch was thrown on Monday night. Fans packed the stands, and it was standing room only all down both baselines and on the field behind the outfield. Sophomore Josh Rogers was on the bump for Louisville and was pitching lights out from the beginning. In a play that Sportscaster featured that night, Rogers caught linedrive headed right back at him, spun all the way around then shimmied and popped up with extreme enthusiasm. The crowd and Rogers teammates were eating it up, and the momentum seemed in the Cardinals favor. Only a couple of innings stood between them and TD Ameritrade Park.

Rogers threw seven innings, with just one run on six hits and six K's. Six outs to go and the undefeated closer, Zach Burdi took the mound. Louisville was up 3-1, the crowd was electric, the sense of anticipation of the celebration to come was palpable. Rogers exchanged some choice words with the Fullerton dugout which only fueled the fire, on both sides.

The Titans snagged a pair of runs in the top of the eighth to even the score, as night fell and the score tied, the crowd thinned and the energy fell. Omaha was slipping away and everyone could feel it. The Cardinals kept swinging, and had runners in scoring position in both the eighth and ninth innings, but couldn't bring home the winning run and the game went to extra innings yet again.

After a scoreless tenth, David Olmedo-Barrera came up to the plate to start the eleventh inning. What happened next would break the hearts of many, infuriate many others, and end Louisville's road. Olmedo-Barrera knocked a ball down the left field line, which was ruled a homerun. The hit was just to the left of the foul pole, and was ruled to have hit the foul pole, awarding Fullerton the game-winning run. The call immediately inspired boo's and visceral reactions from everyone in the stadium, and in the city of Louisville. One local preacher was sitting behind the foul pole and tweeted that the ball did not hit the pole, a tweet that garnered hundreds of retweets and became an example of the controversy surrounding the end of that game.

While debates will probably continue for weeks and months in the future on whether or not that ball hit the pole, that cannot be blamed for the loss entirely. The were four runners in scoring position in the eighth and ninth innings combined, that Louisville failed to capitalize on. Ryan Summers represented the tying run when he pinch ran for Danny Rosenbaum. Louisville skipper Dan McDonnell, never one to shy away from aggressive base running, watched as Summers was caught stealing second for the third out of the eleventh inning. And just like that, the season was over. No College World Series, no fanfare, no Omaha. Just a sense of things left unfinished.

As the sting fades, Louisville baseball has much to be happy about and hopeful for. The man at the top of Louisville's rotation, Kyle Funkhouser, was picked No. 35 overall in the MLB Draft, the highest pick in school history, and several other Cardinals were drafted after that. Spring will once again come with the new hope it brings every year. And many of the key players from this team will be back for another run. Rogers and McKay will be back, along with many other Cardinals who will have another year of experience. The roster will have some holes to fill, but younger guys with more experience will step up and the returning Cardinals will have invaluable motivation. The 2016 Louisville team will be a force to reckon with. A talented team, haunted by the memory of dreams not realized, and of the run that got away.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports
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