Smith struck out 10 batters when the Cardinals lost to Vanderbilt in the College World Series..

Luke Smith carries out Michael McAvene’s jersey during player introductions. Smith struck out 10 batters in UofL’s matchup with Vanderbilt in the College World Series, but still suffered the loss. | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

Louisville’s never-say-die season has fallen short of the College World Series Final thanks to a two-run ninth inning spurt from Vanderbilt that bounced the Cardinals from the postseason.

The Cardinals had to win Friday night and then again on Saturday in order to make it to the CWS Final, but Vanderbilt didn’t let them get to the win-and-advance game.

The Cardinals led 2-1 going into the ninth inning, but Vanderbilt put together a short rally and knocked in a pair of runs before shutting the door in the ninth and advancing to the Final.

Vanderbilt’s Ethan Paul came through in the clutch with a double to tie the game in the ninth. He also scored the go-ahead run moments later.

“I’m just excited for the team,” Paul said on ESPN after the win. “We’ve come a long way and we persevered, never gave up, that’s a big win right there.”

Both team’s starters were rock solid throughout their starts. Vanderbilt’s Mason Hickman went six innings, giving up just two hits and allowing no runs. He was pulled after six because of a pitch count of 102.

UofL starter Luke Smith went 8.1 innings, striking out a whopping 10 batters. He was on the hook for the win when he left the game, but he wound up being responsible for all three of Vanderbilt’s runs in the end, which left him with the loss.

Vanderbilt opened the scoring in the third, as senior infielder Julian Infante grounded into a double play but managed to drive in junior infielder Harrison Ray, making it 1-0.

The Cardinals came through yet again with their backs against the wall in the seventh inning. They scored a pair of runs on a throwing error by Vanderbilt catcher Ty Duvall and a single from sophomore Lucas Dunn.

That gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead, which put them in position to pick up their sixth elimination-game win of the NCAA Tournament.

But things went downhill from there for UofL. Smith recorded his 10th strikeout of the game to end the eighth, and tempers flared as he exchanged words with Infante and other Commodores players in the dugout.

Vanderbilt turned around and scored a pair of runs in the ninth thanks to Paul’s double and a double from Pat DeMarco that drove Paul in.

“Just stay composed, it’s not about them, it’s about us, just do what we need to do to win,” Paul said about the reaction when Smith and Infante argued. “They’re competitive, they’re going to talk, and it’s not about them, we’re just going to do what we need to do.”

UofL managed to get a runner to second in the bottom of the ninth, but Vanderbilt closer Tyler Brown, a nationally-heralded closer, managed to shut the door on the Cardinals’ season.

This year was one in which UofL managed to defy the odds time and again. The Cardinals had to win three straight in the NCAA Regional just to make it to the Super Regional, and their winner-take-all game against Illinois State ended with a walk-off single from freshman Alex Binelas.

After sweeping East Carolina in the Super Regional, UofL fell to Vanderbilt in the Cardinals’ first game of the College World Series. With it being a double-elimination tournament, the Cardinals had to win out in the next four games to make the College World Series Final.

They checked off two of the four, as they eked out a 5-3 win over Auburn and then pulled off another walk-off win over Mississippi State, overcoming a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

The Cardinals end the year 51-18. Vanderbilt’s win launched them into the College World Series Final, where the Commodores will take on Michigan. That series will start on Monday.