LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville coach Dan McDonnell only recently installed freshman Nick Solak as his everyday designated hitter. Even then, it was just to get the freshman some regular at-bats.
Well, on the strength of Solak's bat, the Cardinals are heading back to Omaha.
Solak's two-run homer in the fifth inning propelled the Cardinals to a 7-4 win over Kennesaw State in the NCAA super regionals Saturday night, clinching Louisville's second straight College World Series berth and third in seven years.
"Earlier on in the year when (Solak) would hit, older hitters would lean over the railing and talk about Solak," McDonnell said. "They started to earn a lot of respect for him. It's hard being the DH."
Solak finished Saturday's game 1-for-3 with three RBIs, and was 4-for-7 with a home run, two doubles and six RBIs in two super regional games. He had the go-ahead hit for the Cardinals in both wins.
"It felt like we needed a spark there in the three-hole, and he's done a really nice job," McDonnell said. "We're really happy for him."
Kennesaw State jumped out to an early lead against Louisville starter Anthony Kidston. Kal Simmons doubled to lead off the bottom of the first, and reached third on a sacrifice bunt. Max Pentecost singled to give the Owls a 1-0 lead.
Pentecost, the 11th pick in the Major League Baseball draft, gave the Owls a lead with a bases-loaded, two-run double in the bottom of the third. Through three innings, the Owls led 4-2.
But Louisville's Cole Sturgeon singled in a run with one out in the fifth, and he was on first when Solak's high fly ball cleared the left-field fence.
The Cardinals (50-15) have appeared in the College World Series three times since McDonnell was hired in 2007. Before his arrival, the Cardinals had never won a game in the NCAA tournament.
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