LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Louisville head 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 aginst Kennesaw State in the NCAA Super Regionals on Saturday night, clinching Louisville's second consecutive 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 RBI, and was 4-for-7 with a home run, two doubles and six RBI 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 3-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.
''This is not about me, and I get a lot of praise when we win,'' McDonnell said. ''This is about coaches, the assistants and the players. I'm the one that's blessed. It's uncomfortable when people say I take these kids to Omaha, because I don't. They take me. The '07 team took me, and it's uncomfortable as a coach when people introduce you as that.''
The Owls (40-24) finished their season having won 26 of their last 30 games. Kennesaw State had not lost consecutive games since April 4-5 before being swept out of the Super Regional.
Kennesaw State was making its first NCAA tournament appearance since transitioning from Division II in 2007.
Louisville closer Nick Burdi earned his 18th save of the season, notching saves in both Super Regional wins. He lowered his ERA to 0.51 with his scoreless ninth inning.
Kidston (9-0) earned the win, pitching six innings and allowing four earned runs. He struck out seven and walked two.
''[Kidston] threw more changeups than he did anything else,'' Pentecost said. ''I feel like we went up there with the mindset that we were going to get something else besides that, and we never did.''
Solak doesn't hit for much power. His home run Saturday was his second home run of the season, and it didn't make it out of Jim Patterson Stadium by much.
''They were busting me in all game, and I got what I was looking for, so I turned on it,'' Solak said. ''I thought I got it pretty good, but I was running around the bags pretty fast just in case.''