The 22nd-ranked Louisville baseball team took care of its business with a 9-5 victory at Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon and got the help it needed to clinch its third BIG EAST Conference regular season championship in four years and earn the No. 1 seed in next week’s BIG EAST Championship.
With their eighth BIG EAST series win of the season, the Cardinals close the regular season with a 38-18 record overall and an 18-9 mark in league action to finish in a first-place tie with St. John’s, which dropped its series finale with Seton Hall on Saturday. By virtue of Louisville’s series win over the Red Storm last weekend, the Cardinals own the tiebreaker with St. John’s and will be the top seeded squad.
U of L will open the double-elimination championship against a familiar foe in No. 8 seed Pittsburgh on Wednesday at 5 p.m., ET at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. Joining the Cardinals and Panthers in their side of the eight-team bracket will be No. 4 USF and No. 5 Connecticut, which is scheduled to play at 8 p.m., on Wednesday. The other opening day matchups in the BIG EAST Championship will feature No. 3 Seton Hall against No. 6 Rutgers at 10 a.m., and No. 2 St. John’s against No. 7 Notre Dame at 1 p.m.
In Saturday’s victory, freshman designated hitter Mason Snyder (Ottawa, Ill./Marquette Academy) finished 2-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored to lead the offense, while freshman right-hander Jared Ruxer (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS) provided another quality start allowing three runs while scattering 10 hits in a career-long 7.2 innings pitched to earn the win and improve to 8-1 on the season. It marked the third straight win for Ruxer, who has a 2.61 ERA in 69.0 innings pitched this season.
Along with Snyder, four other Cardinals had at least two hits as Louisville finished with 10 or more hits for the 28th time this season. Sophomore outfielder Adam Engel (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland HS) finished 3-for-6 with an RBI and a run scored, while sophomore outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) was 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored. Sophomore catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky./Henderson County HS) went 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and three runs, and junior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC) was 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run.
Following a scoreless first inning, the Cardinals plated the first run of the game in the second on an RBI sacrifice fly to right field by sophomore shortstop Alex Chittenden (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS) to score Gibson. The scoring chance started with Gibson reaching base on a one-out walk from Pitt starter Matt Wotherspoon. Gibson then moved to third on a double down the right field line by junior first baseman Zak Wasserman (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore HS) before scoring on the flyout.
After a scoreless third, Louisville gained command of Saturday’s game with a six-run fourth inning on six hits. After an out started the inning, the Cardinals got back-to-back singles from senior outfielder Stewart Ijames (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) and Gibson. After a flyout for the second out of the inning, the next five Louisville players reached base to plate six runs.
After a walk to Chittenden on a 10-pitch at-bat loaded the bases, Snyder connected for a two-run single to right field to score Ijames and Gibson for the 3-0 lead. Engel followed with an RBI single up the middle to score Chittenden for the third run of the inning. That was followed by an RBI single from Ratajczak to score Snyder. After moving to second on a wild pitch, Ratajczak and Engel scored on a two-run single by Sturgeon for the final runs of the frame.
The Panthers broke through for their first run of the day in the fifth on an RBI single to left field by designated hitter Anthony DeFabio to score centerfielder Stephen Vranka on a close play at the plate. An inning later, Pittsburgh cut the Louisville lead to 7-2 as leftfielder Boo Vazquez scored from third on an RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of third baseman Sam Parente.
After a scoreless seventh inning, the Panthers pulled closer with a run in the eighth on an RBI single to right center by Parente to score Roche and cut the Louisville advantage to 7-3. However, the Cardinals plated two runs in the top of the ninth on an RBI double by Gibson and an RBI single by Snyder for the 9-3 lead. The Panthers added two unearned runs in the bottom of the ninth for the final margin.
On the mound for the Panthers, Wotherspoon allowed seven runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings pitched to take the loss and fall to 4-4 on the season. At the plate for Pitt, Vazquez finished 2-for-5 with two RBI, while Parente was 2-for-4 with two RBI.