LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The winning team doesn’t have all the unexpected stars. Meet Radford’s Adam Whitacre. He had 14 RBI in 49 games this season.
He had six in two swings Friday night against Louisville.
The No. 1 seed Cardinals finally overpowered the upstart Highlanders 11-6. More like they overpowered the one-man wrecking crew batting sixth in the Radford lineup. Good thing, too. With North Carolina and Florida State going down, a Louisville loss would have completed an ACC cataclysmic Friday.
But one sophomore outfielder who drove in three runs all the month of May had the Cardinals sweating, at least for a little while.
“I was just going up there and trying to calm down, slow my feet down and see the ball deep,” he said. “I was just doing what coach tells me every day.”
Never mind that 27-31 Radford is only one of three teams that came into the NCAA tournament with a losing record.
Never mind that Louisville was 12-0 at home in the regional the past four years, mashing all those in the way by a combined score of 89-28. And is 30-4 at home this season.
Never mind that it looked like business as usual Friday, when the Cardinals rolled to a 6-0 lead in the third inning.
“During the year, teams fold,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “Radford didn’t.”
Whitacre was just getting started.
There he was in the fourth inning, with bases loaded and two out. Bam. A shot over the right field wall for a grand slam.
“It was pretty amazing,” Whitacre said. “It’s something you dream about as a kid.”
There he was again in the sixth against Louisville starter Kade McClure, with runners on first and second with two out. “I knew he was probably gunning for me,” Whitacre said. Wham. A hot grounder just inside first base, and into the right-field corner for a two-run triple. Suddenly, the game was tied 6-6, McClure was gone, and Jim Patterson Stadium was not so loud.
But Louisville had its own secret weapon. Freshman Jake Snider, whose father Eric is the Cardinals' hitting coach, had five at-bats all May and no home runs for the season. Make that one. His two-run shot in the sixth put the Cardinals in front to stay.
Whitacre, who missed the last three games of the Big South tournament with a hamstring injury, had made it interesting, anyway.
“He’s tightly wound,” coach Joe Raccuia said. “And that affected him when his numbers weren’t going well. It was exactly what he said — slow down, slow down.”
In the ninth, the game more or less gone, he was hit by a pitch. He finished with three more RBI than the top seven players in the Louisville lineup combined. Meanwhile, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters for the Cardinals had six of their nine RBIs.
But then, it was a strange night in lots of places. The Chapel Hill regional’s winners’ bracket is Florida Gulf Coast vs. Davidson.