It was Austin Martin early and Austin Martin late for No. 2-seeded Vanderbilt's baseball team against Louisville in the College World Series Sunday afternoon, and that was enough for the Commodores (55-11) to squeeze out a 3-1 victory.
Martin put the No. 7 Cardinals (49-17) in an immediate hole with a 390-foot leadoff home run in the first inning, then the sophomore third baseman finished the job with a two-run shot in the seventh, both over the left field wall in TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
It's familiar territory for Louisville, which has now lost its first game in four of its five CWS appearances, the exception being 2017 when it beat Texas A&M before dropping back-to-back games against Florida and TCU. Only four teams in the last 38 years have lost their opener and recovered to win the championship.
Still, there is a modicum of hope for the Cards, despite the bad start and their dismal CWS record of 2-9. Eighteen teams have advanced out of the loser’s bracket to the best-of-three title series in the last 31 years. And U of L battled back from a 1-1 start in the regional to win three straight elimination games.
The Cards will try to stay alive when they face the loser of Sunday's second game between No. 6 Mississippi State (51-13) and Auburn (38-26) at 2 p.m. Tuesday, with the loser going home.
"I challenged them a little bit," said U of L coach Dan McDonnell. "I didn't think we played our best baseball, looked a little bit like our first two games in the regional. We always say we have to be who we are, and we play a certain way with a certain type of energy and I just didn't think we were that today. Hopefully, we get back to who we are Tuesday."
Martin, who entered the game as Vandy's leading hitter with a .410 average, gave an indication of what was to come when he jumped on All-American junior lefthander Reid Detmers' first pitch of the game for his ninth homer of the season.
"He's one of the best we've faced all year," Detmers said. "He can basically hit anything anywhere he wants to. You've got to keep the ball down because he capitalizes on everything you put up."
Detmers recovered well from the opening shock, giving up just two more hits in 5.2 innings before being relieved by Brian Hoeing. But it certainly wasn't one of his better outings -- he issued a career-high six walks and had to continually pitch out of trouble.
Louisville tied the score in the fifth inning on a double by Justin Lavey down the left field line, followed by Henry Davis' RBI single up the middle against Vandy All-American sophomore righthander Drake Fellows (13-1).
But the Cards missed a chance to break the game open when Adam Dunn and Logan Wyatt singled to load the bases with one out, giving them four straight hits. Fellows snuffed out the rally, though, retiring Tyler Fitzgerald on a foul popup and Alex Binelas on a ground out.
"That was definitely the turning point of the game where we missed out on an opportunity," Davis said.
"We put together some hits and some good at-bats there in the fifth and we were hoping to knock Fellows out and get into their bullpen," McDonnell said. "But he made some good pitches to get Fitz and Binelas."
That proved to be U of L's last serious threat and Fellows was able to stick around through seven innings while allowing seven hits, striking out six and walking just one. Then two Vandy relievers gave up only one hit the rest of the way.
Senior righthander Bryan Hoeing (3-4) relieved Detmers with two out in the sixth and retired the side. But in the seventh, Julian Infante lashed a one-out double down the left field line and Martin slammed what proved to be the game-winning homer in almost exactly the same spot as his first one, though not as long.
"Martin's just a really good hitter," McDonnell said. "Our catcher (Davis) came back to the dugout and said Hoeing made a really good pitch, changeup really down, and he just went and got it."
The Jacksonville, Fla., native became the firts Vanderbilt player to hit two home runs in a CWS game. It was also the first leadoff homer hit in a CWS game since 2015, when Florida's Harrison Bader did it against Miami.
"I'm feeling really good at the plate, like I'm seeing the ball well," Martin said. "I'm not putting too much pressure on myself, just going out and playing the game. Usually, you'll see pitchers try to just get that first strike so they can get into their rhythm, so I'm always ready for that first pitch.
"In the seventh, once again, just not trying to do too much. It was an off-speed pitch so I had a little bit of extra time and I just tried to put the best swing on it I could. I have eight other guys behind me who can swing the bat very well; fortunately it just happened to be me today."
Now the Cards must make it happen for them Tuesday if they want to avoid another early exit.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.