- Elizabeth Merrill
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OMAHA, Neb. -- There is the quasi-superstitious second baseman who has refused to shave for 2½ weeks, when this whole crazy thing began. But ask most of the hitters who have carried Louisville to another day at the College World Series, and they'll say the ball looks bigger, the wind feels stronger, and the best thing about their late-season success is that they've tried not to think about it.
"I'm not saying we're big and tough and we don't need [superstitions]," Daniel Burton said after his home run helped lift Louisville to a 12-4 win over Mississippi State on Sunday. "I'm just saying we don't rely on them.
"We're just having fun, really. That's what it boils down to."
Mere weeks after Louisville barely squeaked into the NCAA regionals, roughly a month after first-year coach Dan McDonnell sat the boys down and told them to stop pressing, the Cardinals won their first CWS game in school history with another mind-numbing day at the plate. They slugged out 18 hits and four home runs, getting two homers from Chris Dominguez.
They've scored 99 runs and hit 20 homers in 10 NCAA Tournament games. And Dominguez is the hottest of them all, hitting eight home runs since June 2. His last one Sunday nearly hit the scoreboard, and Mississippi State's outfielders just watched as it sailed to the top of the left-field rafters. They knew it was gone.
"When the wind's blowing here, you never know what's going to happen," said Dominguez, who benefited from a 19-mph wind blowing out of the south at the start of the game.
He tried not to watch the ball because, he said, that's rude and it got him into trouble in a regional game at Missouri. That game seemingly vaulted Dominguez into stardom, but the redshirt freshman says he started feeling good before that, in a late-season game at Cincinnati.
Dominguez had just seven home runs in the regular season. He was a ballyhooed recruit coming out of high school in Florida, one of the biggest to step onto the Louisville campus. But he broke his arm last year as a true freshman and was forced to take a medical redshirt.
"I'm sure there were some days where he wasn't having as much fun as he should have," McDonnell said. "He fought a lot of adversity. He had an unbelievable fall for us. I think he hit seven or eight home runs for us. I've never had a kid hit that many home runs in such a short period of time.
"Chris is one of the most talented players that I've ever coached. And you're careful sometimes when you use the word talent. It's something that you see in him and that he does."
Mississippi State, which was sent home with an 0-2 record in Omaha, was never really in it. Scruffy-faced second baseman Logan Johnson sent a 3-2 pitch over the center field wall in the first inning, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. Dominguez made it 3-0 in the second when he swung away at the first pitch and homered to center.
The Cardinals have been free swinging throughout the NCAA Tournament, and the results have surprised everyone.
"I would lie if I didn't say I was [surprised]," said right fielder Pete Rodriguez. "We were just waiting for one of us to come out."
Freshman pitcher Justin Marks was in command, effectively wild for five innings. He had a two-hitter going in the bottom of the sixth when Mitch Moreland hit a one-hopper that nailed Marks in the knee. As he lay writhing on the ground for a few minutes, his teammates and Mississippi State coach Ron Polk surrounded him.
He eventually sprang to his feet and threw a couple of warm-up pitches. He wasn't quite the same. Marks walked the next batter, then gave up a three-run homer to Brandon Turner.
Luckily for the Cardinals, they had scored eight runs by then.
When it was over, McDonnell said he didn't feel any pressure, didn't feel as though the Cardinals needed to win a game in Omaha to prove they weren't some novelty team from an unknown baseball conference. The first-year coach isn't doing too much thinking. And neither are the Cardinals.
"We didn't think we were getting in the tournament," Burton said. "Really, with us seniors is where it all began. We decided we were lucky to be here, and what an opportunity it is to play in the postseason. Let's just have fun with it."
Elizabeth Merrill writes for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Pressure? What pressure? Louisville just wants to have fun, writes Elizabeth Merrill.