The junior left-hander threw a four-hitter and the Hoosiers looked mighty comfortable at TD Ameritrade Park while beating Louisville 2-0 on Saturday night.
“I was pleased with what Joey was able to do,” Indiana coach Tracy Smith said, “because as much as our offense has been something very key for us, at the end of the day if you’re going to win a national championship you’re still going to do it with your pitching and defense.”
The Hoosiers (49-18) had plenty of both. DeNato got stronger as the game went on, and the defense played error-free and produced a huge play when right fielder Will Nolden threw out Sutton Whiting at the plate to keep the shutout intact.
Indiana (49-18) has beaten the Cardinals (51-13) in three of four meetings, shutting them out twice. The Hoosiers will play Monday against Mississippi State, and the Cardinals will face Oregon State in an elimination game.
The Hoosiers manufactured their runs early, and DeNato (10-2) made them stand up in a masterful 136-pitch outing in front of a stadium-record crowd of 27,122.
“Definitely one of the top performances I’ve ever had,” DeNato said. “Getting ahead in the count and throwing my curveball over for a strike on first pitches was working pretty good.”
DeNato allowed three singles and a double in his second complete game. He struck out eight and walked three.
Louisville starter Chad Green (10-4) left after Indiana loaded the bases with none out in the third inning.
Indiana is the first Big Ten team in the CWS since Michigan in 1984 and gave the conference its first win in Omaha since the Wolverines beat Stanford in 1983.
Indiana has won all six of its NCAA tournament games after failing to get out of regionals in its only other appearances in 1996 and 2009.
“It’s new territory for us,” Smith said. “We’re excited to get that first College World Series win out of the way, albeit not the prettiest win. There were mental mistakes, plenty of base-running mistakes, but there also were some nice plays out there. We feel we have better baseball in us.”
Louisville is in Omaha for the second time, and first since 2007, and trying to continue its university’s run of athletic success this year. The football team beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl, its men’s basketball team won the national championship and its women’s basketball team was national runner-up.
“You know, our guys were ready to play,” Cards coach Dan McDonnell said. “They were excited. I give a lot of credit to their pitcher.”
DeNato limited Louisville to three singles through seven innings. Adam Engel doubled down the left-field line with two outs in the Louisville eighth, but DeNato got Cole Sturgeon to ground out to end the threat.
DeNato retired the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 batters — Ty Young, Coco Johnson and Jeff Gardner — to end the game and deny the Cardinals a 10th win in their last at-bat this season.
The Hoosiers, who came to Omaha batting .305 and with 51 home runs, had chances to break open the game but couldn’t muster more than RBI singles by Scott Donley in the first and Michael Basil in the third.
Nolden prevented what would have been a Louisville run in the third. Nolden came up throwing after picking up Cole Sturgeon’s base hit and nailed Whiting at the plate to end the inning.
“We love the two-out base hit to Nolden because we know there’s going to be a play at the plate,” Smith said. “The guys were excited in the dugout, and they fed off it.”
From there, DeNato kept flummoxing the Cardinals.
“The main thing about DeNato, he competes and never gives in,” Sturgeon said. “He out-competed us. As hard as that is to say, he won pitches when he needed to and we didn’t get the big hit when we needed it.”
There was a 10-minute delay in the middle of the fourth inning when plate umpire Steve Manders became ill and left the game. Chris Coskey, the second-base umpire, took over behind the plate. Gregory Street, who worked second base in the afternoon game between Mississippi State and Oregon State, took Coskey’s place at second.