CLEARWATER, Fla. - Junior right-hander Jeff Thompson finished with a career best 12 strikeouts to lead the No. 4 Louisville baseball team to a 10-1 win over USF during day two of the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge on Saturday at Bright House Field.
With the win, the Cardinals improved to 1-1 on the season, while Saturday’s game was the season-opener for the Bulls. Louisville will conclude the weekend against Purdue on Sunday at 10 a.m., ET at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Along with setting a new career best total, the12 strikeouts for Thompson (Greenville, Ind./Floyd Central HS) also set a new BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge record surpassing the previous record of 11 set by Connecticut’s Matt Barnes in 2010. As a team, the Cardinals finished with 15 total strikeouts to equal the tournament record.
“My fastball was on point for most of the game and I felt pretty good out there,” Thompson said after the win. “As a pitcher, anytime you have a four-run lead before you ever step on the mound, it helps you relax. This is a great start for me, but it’s all about being consistent. It’s a long season.”
Overall, Thompson pitched five shutout innings allowing only four hits with just one walk to go with a dozen strikeouts, one better than his previous personal best of 11 against Cincinnati last March, while earning the win for the Cardinals. He was followed on the mound by freshman righty Kyle Funkhouser (Oak Forest, Ill./Oak Forest HS) who pitched three shutout innings of relief allowing only two hits with three strikeouts in his collegiate debut. Redshirt freshman lefty Adam Schemenauer (Kansas City, Mo./Park Hill South HS) closed the game allowing only an unearned run on one hit in the ninth inning in his first college outing.
At the plate, junior outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) was 2-for-5 with a triple, three RBI and two runs scored to lead the Louisville offense, which bounced back from Friday night’s shutout loss to Indiana by plating four runs in the first inning on Saturday. Sturgeon had the big hit in the opening frame when he connected for a two-out, three-run triple down the left field line against USF lefty starter Nick Gonzalez.
“Tonight was the exact opposite of last night. You have to put runs across early in a game when you get a chance and we tried last night, but tonight we got the huge two-out hit in the first by Cole,” said Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell. “Then Jeff Thompson strikes out 12 in five innings, which was very impressive. It was also good to see us play good defense. This was a good team win tonight.”
Junior designated hitter Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky./Whitefield Academy) added his first home run of the season with a two-run shot for the Cardinals, while sophomore infielder Sutton Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa./Louisville Ballard HS) singled and walked twice to go with an RBI and a run scored. Senior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC) added two hits and scored twice, while junior catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky./Henderson County HS) had two hits and scored once.
The Cardinals set the table for Sturgeon in the first inning on Saturday when Ratajczak earned a one-out single through the right side and was followed by both junior outfielder Coco Johnson (Benton Harbor, Mich./Central Arizona College) and junior infielder Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) being hit by pitches from Gonzalez to load the bases. Sturgeon then belted a 2-2 pitch for his sixth career triple before scoring the fourth and final run of the inning moments later when freshman infielder Danny Rosenbaum (Lafayette Hill, Pa./Plymouth Whitemarsh HS) reached base on a fielding error by USF first baseman Buddy Putnam.
Following a scoreless second inning, Louisville added to its lead in the third when Sturgeon scored from first on an RBI triple by Rosenbaum, his first career hit, for a 5-0 lead. Whiting followed with an RBI single to right field to plate Rosenbaum for a six-run lead.
An inning later, after Ratajczak led off with a single to right field, Gardner pushed the Cardinals’ advantage to 8-0 when he sent an offering from USF reliever Justin Patrick over the right field wall and out of the ballpark for the home run. Louisville plated its final two runs of the game in the fifth inning when Gibson doubled to left center field and later scored on a wild pitch before an RBI single by Adam Engel (Cincinnati, Ohio/Loveland HS) scored Whiting.
The Bulls broke through for an unearned run in the ninth inning for the final margin.
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Postgame Louisville Notes
- With the win, the Cardinals halted a two-game skid against the Bulls. Louisville has won 13 of the last 17 overall against USF.
- The win also improved Louisville’s all-time record at Bright House Field to 19-8. Louisville will return to the ballpark in May for the 2013 BIG EAST Conference Championship.
- Junior righty Jeff Thompson improved his career record to 12-5 with Saturday’s win. He now has 128 strikeouts in 123.0 innings pitched.
- Louisville outscored USF 4-0 in the first inning on Saturday. Last season, the Cardinals finished with an 87-14 advantage in the first inning.
- With his two singles on Saturday, senior Nick Ratajczak has hit safely in seven straight games, the longest active streak for the Cardinals.
- The nine-run margin on Saturday marked Louisville’s largest margin of victory since a 12-1 win over USF on April 21, 2012. Like Saturday, Jeff Thompson also earned the win in that outing.