Coaches put friendship aside as Louisville meets Mississippi State in CWS elimination game

With juniors and seniors on the Louisville roster who helped the Cardinals get the school’s first CWS win in 2017, Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell said he’s confident this team can continue to fight back through the elimination games.

It’s no longer an option for the two coaches to have their teams avoid playing each other.

Chris Lemonis and Dan McDonnell have managed to not schedule games between their schools — Mississippi State and Louisville — because of their decades-long friendship that dates to their days as teammates at The Citadel.

But one friend will end the other’s season Thursday when the teams meet in the 7 p.m. elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park.

Louisville defeated Auburn 5-3 Wednesday to eliminate the Tigers before Mississippi State fell to SEC rival Vanderbilt 6-3 in the winners bracket. The winner of Thursday’s elimination game would have to defeat the Commodores twice to reach the championship series.

After Wednesday’s loss, Lemonis said he and McDonnell were hopeful they would end up in opposite brackets. That way they’d have a chance to meet in the best-of-three final that begins Monday.

“We’re not scheduling each other, I can tell you that,” Lemonis said. “We always say if we’re going to play each other, we’d want it to be in Omaha. We were just hoping we were in different brackets and in the last games. One of us will go home, but one of us will get to keep playing.”

It won’t be like the good old days when McDonnell and Lemonis suited up for The Citadel. Lemonis had one at-bat in ’89 and played his senior season in 1993, the year he was an all-conference first baseman. McDonnell was an all-conference pick in 1992 at second base.

“The reality is it’s Mississippi State against Louisville, and Dan nor I get to swing a bat or hopefully him not steal a base or anything like that,” Lemonis said. “It’ll come down to the kids.”

Chris Lemonis

“We’re not scheduling each other, I can tell you that,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. “We always say if we’re going to play each other, we’d want it to be in Omaha. We were just hoping we were in different brackets and in the last games. One of us will go home, but one of us will get to keep playing.”

McDonnell is expected to send Nick Bennett to the mound as Louisville’s starting pitcher while JT Ginn will start for the Bulldogs.

McDonnell was pleased with how the Cardinals bullpen stepped up after Bobby Miller’s start was cut short Tuesday by persistent rain.

Adam Elliott and Michael McAvene pitched two innings apiece Wednesday before Michael Kirian pitched the ninth inning to seal the win.

“I’m really proud of our guys because I thought our bullpen did what we needed them to do,” McDonnell said. “Offensively, we’ve put together some rallies. We’re close. We haven’t exploded yet, (and) that’s the exciting thing.”

The loss Wednesday snapped the Bulldogs’ six-game winning streak in the NCAA tournament. Center fielder Jake Mangum, who was 2 of 5 and scored a run Wednesday, said he and his teammates must put this setback aside and focus on the challenge from Louisville.

“That was a tough one to swallow, but it is what it is, and we’ve got to go home tonight and turn the page quick,” Mangum said. “We’ve got a really good team tomorrow that we’ve got to play. Got to be ready to go.”

With juniors and seniors on the Louisville roster who helped the Cardinals get the school’s first CWS win in 2017, McDonnell said he’s confident this team can continue to fight back through the elimination games.

“We talk about toughness and playing with an edge,” McDonnell said. “I thought our guys really showed that yesterday and today being in the elimination game. Oregon State lost last year, and Coastal Carolina lost one in their year. It happens.

“So hopefully our kids still believe that — and I think they do. I think they’re showing that.”

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