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Louisville Drops Vanderbilt to the Loser's Bracket with a 7-1 Win

Bryan Johns grounds out in the fifth inning. Ground ball outs became a recurring theme for the Commodores Saturday.
Bryan Johns grounds out in the fifth inning. Ground ball outs became a recurring theme for the Commodores Saturday.

Tim Corbin made it perfectly clear in his postgame comments - one thing kept Vanderbilt from winning today; Louisville's pitching. Freshman Matt Koch was dominant over six innings - allowing just three hits - to shut down Vanderbilt in a Regional showdown in Kentucky today. Aside from Jason Esposito's fourth inning home run, the Commodores failed to get anything going all day at the plate, stranding runners and falling prey to the Cardinals' outstanding pitching.

Louisville jumped on starter Sonny Gray immediately in the first, as Phil Wunderlich's three-run homer put the 'Dores in a hole that they would never recover from. That score held into the third inning until an Aaron Westlake error put runners on the corners for the home team, and Ryan Wright capitalized with a RBI single to extend the UL lead. Vandy looked to get back on track when Esposito launched a bomb about 450 feet over the center field wall. However, it turned out to be an illusion, as Vanderbilt mustered just one hit from that point in the game. Despite Koch's freshman status, he looked like a composed veteran on the mound, inducing ground ball outs most of the afternoon.

Even when opportunities presented themselves, the Commodores couldn't capitalize. Walks and hit batters put runners on first and second in both the seventh and eighth innings, but Connor Harrell and Joe Loftus both meekly struck out to end any chance of a Vanderbilt threat. With Sonny Gray tiring, Louisville capitalized in the ninth inning, pushing three more runs across the plate with timely hitting.

Vanderbilt's batting wasn't the only issue, as the team's defense turned in a shaky performance. Joe Loftus turned playing right field into an adventure, losing one routine fly ball in the sun (only to snag it with a diving catch seconds later) and misplaying a base hit that allowed a runner to score in the ninth inning. Westlake, playing first, had trouble as well, fielding a ground ball and flipping it into center field while attempting to pull off a 3-6-3 double play in the third inning. However, solid plays by Anthony Gomez and Jason Esposito saved runs for the Commodores.

In the postgame press conference, an agitated Tim Corbin make it exclusively clear that Vanderbilt's problems were tied to the mastery of Koch and reliever Neil Holland. Despite Vandy's slumping offense, the coach refused to blame his players, instead deferring credit to Louisville's pitching staff. Whether today's four-hit performance was the result of crisp pitching or the continuation of what has been an ongoing offensive slump will be seen in tomorrow's elimination game.

With the loss, Vandy will have to rebound against Game One opponent Illinois State in order to stay alive. Illinois State defeated Saint Louis earlier today to prolong their season, but they'll have to take down Vanderbilt to have a shot against the host team. Sophomore Jack Armstrong will get the start for the Commodores, and the two teams will kick off the day's events at noon tomorrow.

*I would be remiss to forget to mention the help of Vanderbilt SID Thomas Samuel, who went out of his way to provide a young, slightly confused blogger press credentials for today's game. Mr. Samuel, I can't tell you how grateful I am for your help. Thank you.