Sophomore outfielder Cole Sturgeon scored the winning run on a bases loaded walk to senior Stewart Ijames in the 12th inning and senior righty Derek Self finished a dominant night by the Cardinals’ bullpen as the 22nd-ranked Louisville baseball team moved into a first-place tie in the BIG EAST Conference race with a 6-5 comeback win at Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
With the win, the Cardinals improved to 37-17 overall and 17-8 in BIG EAST action, while the Panthers dropped to 27-25 overall and 9-16 in league games. The victory, combined with St. John’s loss earlier in the day to Seton Hall, moved Louisville into a tie with the Red Storm atop the BIG EAST standings with just two games left in the regular season.
The Cardinals will continue their series at Pittsburgh on Friday at 6 p.m., ET, while Saturday’s series finale is set for 1 p.m., ET. Fans can follow all of the action on News/Talk 1570 AM (WNDA) in Louisville or online through CardsTV at UofLsports.com.
With the score even at 5-5, Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) started the 12th inning rally with a one-out single down the right field line off Pittsburgh reliever J.R. Leonardi and moved to second moments later on a single to left field by junior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC). After a two-out walk to sophomore third baseman Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) loaded the bases, Ijames (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) coaxed ball four on a 3-1 pitch from Leonardi for the game-winning RBI walk.
After working a scoreless 11th inning, Self (Cave City, Ky./Caverna HS) closed out the comeback win with a scoreless frame in the bottom of the 12th. Overall, Self allowed only one hit with one strikeout in 2.0 innings of shutout relief to earn his 19th career win and improve to 2-2 on the season. The Cardinals’ bullpen – which featured sophomore lefty Cody Ege (Cherokee, Iowa/Washington HS), senior righty Travis Tingle (Louisville, Ky./Cleveland State CC), Sturgeon and Self – combined for 6.1 innings of scoreless relief allowing just four hits and striking out four on Thursday night.
At the plate, sophomore catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky./Henderson County HS) was the only Cardinal with more than one hit finishing 2-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Sturgeon finished with a single, two walks, an RBI and the game-winning run, while also adding 1.2 innings of shutout relief on the mound. Ratajczak, sophomore outfielder Adam Engel (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland HS) and freshman designated hitter Mason Snyder (Ottawa, Ill./Marquette Academy) each added a hit and an RBI as the Cards won despite being out-hit 13-6.
The Panthers opened the scoring in the first inning on Thursday plating two unearned runs against Louisville righty starter Justin Amlung (Louisville, Ky./St. Xavier HS). After a leadoff walk to centerfielder Stephen Vranka, Amlung fielded a bunt by designated hitter Anthony DeFabio and threw to second where freshman shortstop Zach Lucas (Louisville, Ky./Butler HS) dropped the ball for an error on what would have been a clear force out of Vranka. That was followed by a walk to first baseman Rick Devereaux to load the bases with no outs.
Pitt scored its first run moments later when Vranka scored from third as Boo Vazquez grounded into a double play. The Panthers pushed their lead to 2-0 in the first when DeFabio scored on an RBI single up the middle by third baseman Sam Parente.
The Cardinals answered with an unearned run of their own against Pittsburgh lefty starter Matt Iannazzo in the top of the second to cut the deficit in half. Lucas led off the inning by reaching base on a throwing error by Pitt shortstop Evan Oswald. After moving to second on a groundout, Lucas scored on an RBI single up the middle by Snyder to cut the Pittsburgh lead to 2-1.
An inning later, the Cardinals evened the score at 2-2 on an RBI groundout by Sturgeon to plate Gibson. Gibson led off the inning by reaching base on a throwing error by the shortstop Oswald, his second of the game. After moving to second on a balk by Iannazzo, Gibson moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Engel before scoring on the Sturgeon groundout.
The Panthers quickly answered the Louisville run in the top of the third by scoring three of their own in the bottom of the frame on four hits to regain the lead. After reaching base with a one-out single and moving to second with his third stolen base of the season, Devereaux scored on an RBI single up the middle by Vazquez to regain the lead at 3-2. Pittsburgh added an RBI single from Parente and an RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of catcher Elvin Soto to push the advantage to 5-2.
After the two teams combined for three straight scoreless frames, the Cardinals battled for a trio of two-out runs on two hits, three walks and one hit-by-pitch in the seventh inning to even the score at 5-5. The inning started with a leadoff walk to Young. Following a lineout, Young moved to second on a groundout to the right side. And after a two-out walk to pinch hitter Shane Crain, Young scored from second on an RBI single up the middle by Gibson to cut the deficit to two.
Engel followed with an RBI single to center to score pinch runner Matt Helms (Eufaula, Okla./Seminole State CC) for the Cardinals’ second run of the inning. After a walk to Sturgeon loaded the bases, Pittsburgh reliever Joe Harvey hit Ratajczak in the back to score Gibson from third and even the score at 5-5. It was the team-leading 23rd HBP for Ratajczak, who entered the week ranked in the top 10 nationally in the category.
The two bullpens then controlled the action for four innings before the Louisville rally in the 12th plated the decisive run. On the mound, Amlung finished with a no-decision for the Cardinals after allowing three earned runs and five total runs on a season-high nine hits with strikeouts and three walks in 5.2 innings pitched, his shortest outing of the season. On the other side, Iannazzo also earned a no-decision after giving up five runs, including three earned, on four hits with four strikeouts and three walks in 6.2 innings for the Panthers.
The Cardinals improved to 6-10 this season when being out-hit and Thursday’s win marked the first time this season Louisville has won when trailing after six innings. The victory was just the second of the season for the Cardinals in their final at-bat.