Kennesaw State finished the season 40-24, earning its first appearance in the Division I postseason, and winning a regional title in Tallahassee, Fla., along the way.
“We battled,” longtime Owls coach Mike Sansing said. “We just weren’t able to push a few runs across late when we needed to.”
Much like Friday’s 5-3 loss to Louisville (50-15), Kennesaw State jumped out to an early two-run lead but couldn’t hold off the Cardinals’ relentless offense.
The Owls wasted no time getting out in front. Kal Simmons led off with a double, Jacob Bruce bunted him to third and Max Pentecost singled to left field to bring him home.
Kennesaw State squandered a second leadoff double one inning later.
Chris McGowan’s grounder hit third base and bounced over the third baseman’s head into left. Again, the Owls played small ball with Brennan Morgan bunting McGowan over to third. But this time, Louisville starter Anthony Kidston struck out Alex Liquori and Matt Bahnick to escape unharmed.
Kidston (9-0) was able to escape trouble several times with an effective changeup that the Owls never quite adjusted to.
“We went up there with the mindset that we were going to get something besides (his changeup), when we should have gone up there with the mindset of sitting on that pitch,” said Pentecost, who had three hits and three RBIs in what was likely his final performance as an Owl, about 48 hours after becoming a first-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The top three hitters — Simmons, Bruce and Pentecost — each had three hits for Kennesaw State, but the rest of the lineup was just 2-for-22.
Louisville scored two in the top of the third playing its own small ball. Perfectly placed bunts and well-hit singles gave the Cardinals a brief lead, but the Owls grabbed it right back in the bottom of the fourth.
Former Lassiter High School standout Cornell Nixon led off with a walk. Simmons singled to right, and Bruce bunted for a single to load the bases before Pentecost doubled to left-center to plate Nixon and Simmons.
But with two runners in scoring position and no outs, the Owls were only able to bring one more run in, on an RBI grounder by McGowan for a 4-2 lead.
The Cardinals’ offense waited one inning to strike again. This time, they used the long ball.
Zach Lucas led off with a double to deep left-center. Kyle Gibson bunted him to third, and Cole Sturgeon brought Lucas home with a single to left. Nick Solak then followed with a home run to left field, and just like that, Louisville led 5-4.
Meanwhile, the Owls stranded too many baserunners, leaving two aboard with nothing to show for it in the fourth and fifth innings.
Louisville added two more in the sixth, with two singles, a double steal and a two-run single by Sturgeon to right. The Cardinals loaded the bases but induced a high pop fly to right off the bat of Gardner. Right fielder Alex Liquori changed his approach to the ball twice before finally squeezing it to end the inning.
But the damage was done.
The Owls brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with singles by Bruce and pinch-hitter Colin Bennett, but Brennan Morgan struck out to end the threat.
Four relievers shut the door on Kennesaw State, with Nick Burdi closing the game for the second straight night, with his 18th save.
Travis Bergen (9-5), the most valuable player from Kennesaw State’s regional championship, was hit hard for 11 hits through 5 2/3 innings.
While the curtain closed on the Owls’ season, it was clear that the program is anxious to make postseason curtain calls in future seasons.
“I think it’s a tremendous credit to our players,” said Sansing, expected to return for his 24th season next spring. “They had a great year. It united our campus and will give us some momentum for the future. Bottom line, I’m proud of our guys and what they were able to accomplish this year.”