LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Louisville baseball team wielded its wand once again for some eighth-inning magic.
After scoring nine runs in the eighth in Friday's 10-1 series-opening win over visiting Elon, the Cardinals rallied for three runs Saturday in the eighth en route to a 7-5 victory over the Phoenix at Jim Patterson Stadium.
This was nothing new for the eighth-ranked Cardinals (27-7). They have owned the eighth inning this season, outscoring their opponents a staggering 53-15 in the frame. This time Louisville was down 5-4 with six outs to go after Elon (20-17) became the first team to deal the previously impenetrable Jeff Thompson (Greenville, Ind./Floyd Central HS) a tough outing on the mound.
Things turned in Louisville's favor when junior centerfielder Adam Engel (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland HS) led off the eighth against Elon starter Spencer Medick by reaching on a two-base error after shortstop Antonio Alvarez's overthrow to first. After advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt by senior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC), Engel scored the tying run on a triple down the right field line by junior leftfielder Coco Johnson (Benton Harbor, Mich./Central Arizona College). Johnson had sparked the previous night's eighth-inning outburst with a solo homer.
The Cardinals weren't content with knotting up the game. After fouling off a squeeze bunt attempt against newly inserted reliever Andrew MacDonald, junior third baseman Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) whizzed a line drive that knocked off MacDonald's glove and landed in center field to plate Johnson with the go-ahead run. Freshman designated hitter Danny Rosenbaum (Lafayette Hill, Pa./Plymouth Whitemarsh HS) followed with a single, and junior rightfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) padded the lead with a squeeze bunt that scored Young for a 7-5 advantage.
Sophomore right-hander Nick Burdi (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South HS) pitched a perfect ninth in recording his sixth save. Burdi put the finishing touch on a superb day from the Louisville bullpen, led by Kyle McGrath (Louisville, Ky./Eastern Kentucky/Butler HS). The freshman left-hander entered for Thompson in the third inning with two runners on base and, after loading them with a walk, retired 10 straight batters in a performance that included 4.2 innings pitched with no runs, no hits and four strikeouts.
Junior left-hander Cody Ege (Cherokee, Iowa/Cherokee Washington HS) preceded Burdi by recording the final two outs of the eighth, getting the job done after coming in for McGrath with a count on a hitter and earning the victory to improve to 2-1. McGrath, Ege and Burdi combined to keep the Phoenix hitless after the third inning. Over the final six innings, Elon had a single runner reach base, on a hit by pitch.
Young drove in the winning run and got Louisville on the board in the first inning with a three-run homer to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. He went 3-for-4 with four RBI and three runs scored. Johnson was 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI, and Engel added two hits and a run.
For the first time this season, Thompson was less than dominant. The junior right-hander pitched a season-low 2.2 innings and gave up a season-high five earned runs on four hits and three walks in recording his third no-decision. It was only the third occasion in nine starts that the two-time BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week had allowed even a single run.
The long ball marked the first two innings, with Elon going deep twice and Louisville once. Thompson's season high in earned runs coming into the game was two, as was his high for extra-base hits, but the Phoenix matched those totals after three batters as rightfielder Alex Swim doubled and catcher Ryan Kinsella followed with a two-run homer to right field for his 13th round-tripper of the season.
Elon's 2-0 lead didn't last long as Young connected for his third homer of the year in the bottom of the first. After Engel singled, Ratajczak was hit by a pitch and Johnson grounded into a fielder's choice, Young launched a three-run blast to right field.
Elon scored on a double steal in the third for a 5-3 lead while the Cardinals cut the deficit to one in the fifth after junior catcher Shane Crain (Lexington, Ky./Wabash Valley CC) singled and later scored when sophomore shortstop Sutton Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa./Louisville Ballard HS) grounded into a double play.
Medick dropped to 5-2 after allowing six runs, including five earned, on nine hits in 7.1 innings pitched. Kinsella had two of Elon's four hits.
Louisville and Elon will meet in the final game of the series at 1 p.m., ET on Sunday at Jim Patterson Stadium.
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Postgame Louisville Notes
-The three runs Louisville scored in the first inning Saturday and the two the Cardinals allowed pushed their advantage over opponents in the first frame this season to 33-10. Louisville moved to 15-1 when scoring in the opening inning.
-On Saturday, Louisville clinched its seventh weekend series victory of the season in eight tries, and the Cardinals will be seeking their sixth sweep on Sunday.
-They have played 10 Saturday games and won nine, with the only loss being in the tail end of a doubleheader against Rutgers.
-Saturday's game was only the second ever between Louisville and Elon, with the Cardinals taking both contests. Louisville improved to 8-2 all-time against current members of the Southern Conference.
-Louisville improved to 22-4 at home this season and 202-74 (.732 winning percentage) all-time at Jim Patterson Stadium since it opened in 2005.
-The 2.2 innings Jeff Thompson threw Saturday accounted for his shortest outing since throwing 2-plus against Pittsburgh on May 18 of last season.
-After allowing five earned runs Saturday, Thompson's ERA rose from 0.51 to a still sensational 1.29. He maintained his 6-0 record after taking a no-decision.
-With 6.1 scoreless innings of relief Saturday, Louisville's bullpen lowered its ERA this season to 1.70 with 177 strikeouts in 132.2 innings pitched.
-Ty Young has tallied three three-hit games during his 11-game hitting streak and seven total multi-hit games.
-Coco Johnson collected his fourth multi-hit game in the last seven contests.
-Louisville's 11 hits marked the 20th time this season the Cardinals have recorded 10 or more hits.
-Louisville tallied its 10th game of error-free baseball, including the first two games with Elon.
-Nick Ratajczak was hit by a pitch Saturday for a team-leading 11th time this season after being plunked 28 times last year.