Kennesaw State loses opener in NCAA baseball regional

For seven-plus innings Kennesaw State had Louisville feeling real postseason pressure for the first time in this year’s NCAA baseball tournament.

The Owls used sharp defense and timely pitching to stymie Louisville’s offense and take a two-run lead against ace Kyle Funkhouser. It was the first time the Cardinals had trailed in the tournament, but they rallied with three runs in the eighth for a 5-3 victory Friday in Game 1 of the best-of-three NCAA super regional.

Game 2 of the series is Saturday night. The Owls can force a deciding Game 3 on Sunday with a victory.

Louisville tied the game when Kyle Gibson’s squeeze bunt attempt turned into an RBI single, then went ahead on Nick Solak’s two-run double off reliever James Connell. That outburst ended KSU’s spirited attempt at another upset victory in the tournament.

The Owls won national championships at the NCAA Division II and NAIA levels but are in their first NCAA Division I tournament. Louisville advanced to its second College World Series last season and had a school-record crowd of 5,351 at Jim Patterson Stadium for the opener against KSU.

Funkhouser was perfect through three innings as Louisville took a 1-0 lead. The Owls finally put a man on base when Kal Simmons walked to lead off the fourth. Jacob Bruce followed with a walk and suddenly the Owls were in business with two runners on, no outs and star slugger Max Pentecost at bat.

Funkhouser struck out Pentecost looking on a 1-2 fastball but Bo Way singled to load the bases. Chris McGowan followed with a sharp single that Louisville first baseman Grant Kay couldn’t handle, and the hit scored Simmons to tie the game.

Brennan Morgan followed with a potential double play ball to shortstop Sutton Whiting, but umpire Bill Haze called Morgan safe on a close play at first as Bruce scored for a 2-1 Owls lead. Kennesaw State added another run in the fifth inning when Cornell Nixon scored from second on a wild pitch by Funkhouser and a throwing error by catcher Gibson on the play at third.

The Owls turned back the Cardinals when they threatened to score in the fifth and sixth innings but Louisville scored a run in the seventh to trim the deficit to a run and won it in the eighth.