OMAHA, Neb. — On a day where all eyes were on national player of the year Brendan McKay in his College World Series debut, the two relievers he handed the ball off to shined the brightest in Louisville’s victory over Texas A&M.
The Cardinals jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second inning before McKay ran into trouble in the fifth, allowing two runs on three straight hard hits that shrunk the Cardinals’ lead to one. His final line was closed at five innings pitched, eight hits allowed and four earned runs.
In came Sam Bordner, and down went the next nine Aggies batters. He paved the way for NCBWA Stopper of the Year winner Lincoln Henzman to enter in the ninth inning, who finished off Texas A&M on nine pitches.
“I think Sam’s been the X factor, a little under the radar,” said Louisville coach Dan McDonnell, following the Cardinals’ 8-4 victory.
“Sometimes when you’re in that first out of the bullpen or middle relief role, it’s just not as sexy, you don’t get as much attention,” McDonnell continued. “But clearly Sam’s been hot all year, and we feel, we trust him.”
Bordner and Henzman combined to set the final 12 batters of the game down in order on just 41 pitches. Both pounded the strike zone and were not afraid to pitch to contact — the duo coaxed four groundouts and six fly outs while navigating through the final four innings.
“Just going out there, there was like 24,000 people there so I just tried to drain that out and focus on [catcher Colby Fitch], and that’s it,” Bordner said. “My big priority is, when things get hairy, just throw strikes. I didn’t want to overthrow or anything.”
While four of the five other programs to play before Sunday’s nightcap used multiple starting pitchers in their opening games — including the Aggies, who started Corbin Miller and used Brigham Hill in relief — the Cardinals called upon its top middle relief option and closer to finish off McKay’s 11th win of the year.
Bordner now boasts a 0.43 ERA in 63.1 innings pitched. He hasn’t allowed a hit in 8.2 innings of this year’s tournament. Henzman’s mark stands at 1.72 and he picked up his 17th save Sunday — tied for first in the nation.
“The question was asked, ‘Are you going to take one of your starters and move them into the bullpen?,’” McDonnell said. “And I don’t blame teams for doing that. But I said, ‘No, we’re not.’ We really like bullpen. We’re not going to mess with what we have going there. We trust those guys.”
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Bordner’s extended outing and Henzman’s quick ninth inning saved the arms of bullpen mates Adam Wolf, Jake Sparger and Adam Elliot, which McDonnell said could serve as a boost for Tuesday’s game against the winner of TCU vs. Florida. It also leaves Kade McLure and Nick Bennett free to make their regular starts.
Henzman said he’d like to see Sunday’s blueprint a couple more times in Omaha.
“[It was] just typical Brendan and Sam. It’s us against you, who’s going to win,” Henzman said. “It’s been in our favor for most of the year and I hope it’ll be in our favor for a couple more games.”