The Cardinals

While the Longhorns have struggled this season with a 2-4 record, this isn’t unfamiliar territory for head coach Charlie Strong, who had the same starting record in his second season at Louisville.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

It was just his second year at Louisville, but Charlie Strong surely had high expectations for his Cardinals in 2011.

With a full season under his belt, Strong had already had the chance to instill his values and hard-nosed playing style in a program that included several talented athletes, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and safety Calvin Pryor, who both went on to be first round picks in this year’s NFL draft.

As expected, the Cardinals beat Murray State, an FCS team, in the season opener in 2011, but the 21-7 victory was less than convincing and proved to be an indication of what was to come. Louisville went on to drop four of its next five games, all by nine points or fewer and found itself at 2-4 by the season’s midway point.

Three years later, now in his first season at Texas, the script looks awfully familiar for Strong and his staff, many of whom were with him at Louisville.

Strong hasn’t had as much time with the Longhorns as he did with the Cardinals, but the rough start to his inaugural season in Austin is eerily similar to the one he had in his second year at Louisville.

Texas opened this season with what appeared to be a convincing win over North Texas but, in hindsight, was likely just the result of the Longhorns taking advantage of a particularly weak Mean Green opponent.

Since then, Strong’s team has lost four of five games, with its lone victory coming against Kansas, another feeble foe. The losses, however, have come against some of the top teams in the nation, and Texas has hung around for at least the first two quarters in each of its losses.

“I just don’t think [our record] represents who we are,” senior running back Malcolm Brown said. “We’ve definitely been growing the past couple of weeks and just came up short on those losses that we’ve taken.”

For Strong’s 2011 Cardinals team, the halfway point proved also to be the turning point. After the rough start, Louisville bounced back with wins over Rutgers and Syracuse before a statement victory over West Virginia, which was a ranked team at the time.

“We were going to West Virginia, not knowing if we even had a chance,” Strong said. “That’s when they had quarterback Geno [Smith] and the receivers. Then we end up going up there and beating them, and that gave us some juice.”

With Bridgewater at the helm, the Cardinals went on to win two of their final three games after beating the Mountaineers and finished the regular season 7-5 — good enough to gain bowl eligibility.

Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is no Bridgewater, but his performance last Saturday against Oklahoma proved he is capable of leading this team to an equally strong finish this season.

A win at home against a struggling Iowa State team this weekend would give the Longhorns some momentum heading into next week’s matchup with Kansas State — one that could provide Texas with a season-changing victory much like Louisville’s win over West Virginia three years ago.

However, that’s all speculative. What is known is that Texas’ first six games have been virtually identical to that of the 2011 Louisville team. Now, it’s up to Strong, his staff and the players, to try and duplicate the second half as well.

And just like that, the long, hot, arduous marathon of a baseball season will start its final chapter Wednesday night in Boston. The Fall Classic is upon us, pitting two of baseball’s crown jewel franchises against each other in the 109th World Series. Here are the top three things to watch before the first pitch is thrown at Fenway Park.

3. Which offense wakes up first?

We all know there has been a massive priority placed on pitching and defense in Major League Baseball in the last decade, but both the Cardinals and Red Sox completely abandoned the offensive side of the game in their respective League Championship Series. The Red Sox hit a collective .202 against the Tigers, and the Cardinals a measly .211 against the Dodgers. Both teams finished in the top four in all of baseball in batting average through the season, so the slumps are not the norm for these two lineups. The Cardinals get Allen Craig back into the middle of their lineup after he missed the last six weeks because of a foot injury, so he should provide a nice shot in the arm to a sputtering Cardinals lineup. Whichever offense wakes up first will take a stranglehold on the series.

2.  Can the Cardinals’ young pitching staff keep it up?

Adam Wainwright has been his normal ace self at the top of the rotation for the Cardinals, but the rest of the starting staff has a combined three years of starting experience. Michael Wacha is finishing up his rookie year, and Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn are each wrapping up their second seasons as big-league starters. All four of them have been dominant. The Cardinals sported a 2.09 ERA through the National League Championship Series, and if the kids can keep up with the elder statesman Wainwright, the Cardinals may win their second World Series in three years.

1. Who provides the momentum swinging clutch hit?

Look up and down these two lineups and tell me the clutch gene isn’t dripping from more than half of these guys. Carlos Beltran is in the conversation for greatest postseason performer ever with more clutch moments than you can count on one hand. Yadier Molina has made a career out of it. David Freese? Oh, David Freese. We all remember 2011 — no need to recap. How about for the Sox? David Ortiz has already provided one gargantuan hit this October, clubbing a two-out grand slam, down four in the eighth inning of Game 2 against the Tigers. Mike Napoli was almost solely responsible for the Rangers winning their first World Series in 2011, before being shown up at the 11th hour by the aforementioned Freese. Shane Victorino did it with the Phillies and Dustin Pedroia hasn’t even made this list yet. Someone is going to change the history of baseball forever with a huge hit at some point in this series. There is a huge list of likely candidates, and even more who are looking to etch their names in the history books forever. So who is it going to be?

HOUSTON — Soaked with beer and champagne, Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman embraced in the St. Louis Cardinals plastic-wrapped clubhouse, basking in a celebration no one thought possible less than a month ago.

Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals completed one of baseball’s greatest comebacks on Wednesday night, clinching the NL wild card with an 8-0 win over Houston and a later loss by Atlanta.

The Cardinals got their playoff spot when the Braves fell to Philadelphia 4-3 in
13 innings.

St. Louis trailed Atlanta by 10½ games on Aug. 25, then won 23 of the last 31 games to finish its improbable charge.

“Any time you’re on a playoff team and you make a run like this, you invest a lot of yourself in the season with a great group of guys,” Berkman said. “It just makes
it special.”

The Cardinals will open the postseason on Saturday at NL East champion Philadelphia. In the other NL playoff matchup, Arizona visits Milwaukee.
St. Louis went 6-3 against the Phillies in the regular season. Amid the smiles and spray, the Cardinals were already looking ahead.

“A lot is going to be made of the fact that we played pretty well against the Phillies this year,” Berkman said, “But with the playoffs all around it’s a different story.”
The Braves and Cardinals entered Wednesday’s regular-season finales with 89-
72 records.

St. Louis made quick work of the punchless Astros, then rushed back into the clubhouse to watch the end of the Atlanta game. With the Braves two outs from defeat, a clubhouse attendant wheeled in a dolly stocked with cardboard
boxes of beer.

And when Freddie Freeman rolled into a season-ending double play, the party began. The Cardinals passed out black caps with “2011 MLB Playoffs” emblazoned on top and black T-shirts with NL wild-card logos.

Within minutes, the floor of the clubhouse was littered with bottle caps and corks.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to come from so far down,” Berkman said. “We felt like we had a run like this in us, and we executed it just in the nick of time. And
here we are.”

Carpenter (11-9) pitched like an ace, striking out 11 and allowing two hits in his 15th career complete-game shutout. The Cardinals poured onto the field after Carpenter fielded J.D. Martinez’s weak grounder for the final out.

“It was exciting, there’s no doubt about it,” Carpenter said. “The way these guys have played the past month-and-a-half has been amazing, every single night grinding, playing their butts off, not giving up.”

Atlanta’s game started an hour earlier, but the Cardinals virtually took away any hope for a Houston victory in the first inning, jumping to a 5-0 lead against Brett
Myers (7-14).

Pujols and Berkman drove in runs with singles, and David Freese doubled to left-center before Myers even recorded an out. Berkman scored when Skip Schumaker’s hard grounder ricocheted off Myers’ glove for an infield hit, and Freese came home on Nick Punto’s single to right.

“I’m glad that we contributed early in the game,” Pujols said, “and Carpenter obviously took them out and took care of business.” 

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Berkman, Pujols pace Cardinals in win

The Longhorn offense exploded for 14 runs on 15 hits in the Texas Classic championship game Sunday in a 14-4 mercy-rule shortened win against the Louisville Cardinals.

Each Longhorn in the starting lineup had a hit, led by Taylor Hoagland, Lexy Bennett, Nadia Taylor and Amy Hooks who combined to go 8-11 with eight RBIs and two home runs.

Louisville finished second in the tournament, Tulsa third and Northern Illinois fourth.

“I think it was a great start to our season,” Hoagland said. “Our team intensity was up, and I think it’s going to be a good year for us. I think our offense was impeccable this weekend. Our defense did well, and we have some things to work on, but our offense definitely shined through this weekend.”

All of the Longhorns’ scoring came in the first two innings where they jumped on Louisville starter Chelsea Leonard for five runs in the first.
“It sets the tone. If you can lead off the game with a home run or a runner on base, it sets you up. That puts the momentum on our back to continue to push forward,” Taylor said.

In the second inning, Texas continued its scoring barrage with nine more runs, sending 11 batters to the plate capped off by a grand slam by Hoagland.

The team’s offensive performance helped pitcher Blaire Luna, who allowed four runs in completing her third game of the weekend.
“The offense playing as well as it did relieves stress for her and gives her a cushion, allowing her to work through things and grind through stuff,” Hoagland said.

Only one more run was scored during the rest of the game.

The win over the Cardinals gave Texas a 5-0 start and a victory in their first tournament of the season. Giving the team something to build on, and momentum for the rest of the year.

“It was a good weekend all the way around. This group is obviously very focused on finishing. We’ll talk a lot about that through the year, so it’s good to be able to talk about that today and get the outcome,” Texas coach Connie Clark said.