There was gloom but no doom Sunday at Jim Patterson Stadium. Indeed, hope sprung eternal for the Louisville baseball team amid the gray skies and ceaseless drizzle of rain.
Avoiding a potentially crippling blow to their chances of a BIG EAST Conference regular season title, the No. 22 Cardinals defeated No. 20 St. John’s 6-4 behind a two-run homer by Stewart Ijames and a bases-clearing double by Kyle Gibson as Louisville earned the series victory over the Red Storm.
Freshman right-hander Jared Ruxer (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS) earned the victory for Louisville (35-17 overall, 16-8 BIG EAST), which trimmed its deficit to St. John’s (32-19, 17-7) in conference play to a single game after dealing the Red Storm their first series loss in league play this season. The Cardinals also have only dropped one conference series this year. Louisville finishes off league action by traveling to Pittsburgh for a three-game set, while St. John’s hosts Seton Hall.
With Louisville down 2-0 in the fourth, Ijames (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic) followed a single and two stolen bases by sophomore third baseman Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Preparatory School) by rifling a two-run homer on a line over the fence in right off St. John’s starter Kyle Hansen. It was Ijames’ 12th home run this season, which leads the BIG EAST. The senior rightfielder went 1-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored.
In the sixth inning, Kevin Kirkpatrick came on to pitch for Hansen, and the Cardinals immediately put pressure on him after freshman shortstop Zach Lucas (Louisville, Ky./Butler HS) and Ijames both walked. Sophomore centerfielder Adam Engel (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland HS) loaded the bases for Louisville by bunting for a hit. After Kirkpatrick recorded a strikeout, sophomore catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky./Henderson County HS) hooked a double down the left field line that cleared the bases for a 5-2 lead. Gibson boosted the lead to four when he scored on a squeeze bunt by sophomore leftfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS).
Building on his fantastic freshman campaign, Ruxer improved to 7-1 after allowing two earned runs on six hits in 6.2 innings. Senior right-hander Travis Tingle (Louisville, Ky./Cleveland State CC) relieved Ruxer in the seventh and got the final out.
St. John’s managed to make things interesting in the eighth inning by loading the bases with no outs against senior right-hander Derek Self (Cave City, Ky./Caverna HS). The frame started with an error in Louisville’s infield. After Self struck out BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year Jeremy Baltz, Sean O’Hare and Zach Lauricella both followed with RBI singles to slice the Cardinals’ advantage to 6-4. Sturgeon then entered to pitch and induced a 6-4-3 double play to end the rally.
After walking the leadoff batter in the ninth, Sturgeon buckled down and set down the next three Red Storm, striking out Pat Talbut before Engel clinched the win with a fine running catch on a line drive by Matt Wessinger to left center.
Engel had two of Louisville’s eight hits. Gibson, Ijames, Young, junior first baseman Zak Wasserman (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore HS), sophomore designated hitter Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky./Whitefield Academy) and junior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC) all had one hit apiece. O’Hare, Lauricella, Danny Bethea and Bret Dennis had two hits apiece for the Red Storm.
Louisville will play its regular season finale at home when it hosts Morehead State at 6 p.m., ET on Tuesday. Seniors Ijames, Self and Tingle, and fourth-year junior Justin Amlung (Louisville, Ky./St. Xavier HS) will be honored prior to the game.
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Louisville Head Coach Dan McDonnell
“After going against St. John’s for three days, it’s easy to see why they’re in first place in the league. They’re a tough, talented team with very good coaches. We knew the series had a good chance of coming down to the Sunday game. I’m glad we had a chance to play despite the rain even though the conditions weren’t ideal.”
“It was good to come out on the positive side of this weekend. We got a couple of outstanding starts in our two wins and we made enough plays defensively had enough big hits to win the series. The reality is there’s a chance we’ll see them again in the BIG EAST Tournament.”
“I told the team that in four of the last six seasons we’ve had a chance to win the BIG EAST regular season title going into the last weekend. We seem to always be a game or two out of first in that final weekend, which isn’t ideal because we’d certainly prefer to be one or two games in front. But I’ve told the guys that in life, we don’t remember the things that come easy. We remember the things that came with challenges. Our backs are against the wall a little in the conference race, but it’s still a fun spot to be in. The challenge and the message for our guys is that it’s time to have a great week.”
Louisville Sophomore OF/LHP Cole Sturgeon
“On the mound in the eighth inning, I just wanted to get ahead and pound the strike zone. Luckily, I got a pitch down in the zone for a groundball and our middle infield did a great job to turn the double play to end the inning.”
“St. John’s is a great team and we knew that coming in. They showed this weekend that they don’t quite and they fight. We have a lot of respect for their program and this is a big win. We’ve given ourselves a shot going into the last weekend in the conference race. We know we have a lot to play for this weekend.”
Louisville Postgame Notes
- With Sunday’s win, the Cardinals improved to 24-8 this season at home and are 179-69 (.721 winning percentage) all-time at Jim Patterson Stadium since it opened in April 2005.
- Louisville became the first BIG EAST team to win a series against St. John’s this season.
- The Cardinals improved to 35-2 this season when leading after the seventh inning.
- Sunday marked just the seventh time in 16 games this season Louisville has won when its opponent scores first.
- The Cardinals are 20-2 this season when hitting at least one home run.
- The six stolen bases on Sunday were a season-high for the Cardinals and the most since they had seven in a win against Evansville on March 3, 2010.
- The Cardinals were out-hit 9-8 on Sunday marking just the fifth time in 15 games this season they have won when being out-hit.
- Senior Stewart Ijames hit his 45th career home run, which moved him into sole possession of sixth all-time at Louisville.
- With his two RBI on Sunday, Ijames moved into sole possession of third on the Cards’ career list with 203. He is just 15 behind career RBI leader Chris Dominguez (218).
- Overall, Ijames leads the Cardinals in home runs (12) and RBI (56) this season.
- Sophomore Adam Engel had two stolen bases on Sunday, his eighth multiple stolen base game this season. Overall, he leads the Cardinals with 30 stolen bases in 31 attempts this season.
- The 6.2 innings pitched for freshman righty Jared Ruxer marked his second longest outing of the season and clinched his second straight Sunday win.
- The save for sophomore lefty Cole Sturgeon was his second of the season and the second in his last three outings.
- After Sunday’s action, Louisville (16-8) is tied for second in the BIG EAST standings with USF, one game behind first-place St. John’s (17-7). Seton Hall is fourth at 15-9 while UConn is fifth at 14-10 with just three BIG EAST games left in the regular season race.
- Prior to Sunday’s game, the mothers of the Louisville baseball seniors threw out the ceremonial first pitches, a Mother’s Day tradition for U of L baseball.