LEXINGTON, Ky. - In-state products Jeff Gardner and Shane Crain had career days at the plate as the No. 8 Louisville baseball team slugged its way to a dominating 12-5 road win over No. 15 Kentucky on Tuesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
With their second straight win over Kentucky in Lexington and their third win in the last four contests in the Battle of the Bluegrass, the Cardinals improved to 29-7 on the season, while the host Wildcats dropped to 24-12 overall.
Gardner, a junior designated hitter from Louisville (Whitefield Academy), matched career highs in hits and RBI going 4-for-4 with four RBI, a home run, two doubles and two runs scored as the Cardinals finished with 15-8 advantage in hits. The home run was Gardner’s second of the season, while the pair of doubles pushed his season total to six.
Crain, a Lexington native (Wabash Valley CC/Lexington Christian) set a career high in hits going 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored in his return to his hometown. Junior outfielder Coco Johnson (Benton Harbor, Mich./Central Arizona) chipped in going 2-for-5 with a double and three RBI, while junior infielder Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) was 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored to lift his team-leading average to .403.
On the mound, junior lefty Cody Ege (Cherokee, Iowa/Washington HS) allowed one run on two hits with a career best four strikeouts in 2.2 innings of relief to earn the win and improve to 3-1 on the season. Ege has a 1.32 ERA and 17 strikeouts in his 13.2 innings of relief and 18 appearances this season.
The Wildcats struck first on Tuesday night as first baseman A.J. Reed connected for an RBI single to right center off Louisville sophomore righty starter Jared Ruxer (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS) to plate outfielder Kyle Barrett for the 1-0 lead in the first.
The Cardinals quickly pulled even scoring a run on two hits against Kentucky starter Kyle Cody in the second. Junior outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) started things when he was hit by a pitch and then moved to second moments later on a balk by Cody. After advancing to third on a single to left by Gardner, Sturgeon scored on an RBI single to center by Crain.
An inning later, Louisville garnered command for good with a five-run frame in the third. After earning a one-out walk and moving to second on a single by Young, senior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC) scored on an RBI single through the left side by Johnson for the 2-1 lead. Later in the inning, Gardner blistered a double over the head of centerfielder Austin Cousino to plate two more. An RBI single by Crain followed by an RBI double from senior first baseman Zak Wasserman (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore HS) plated the final two runs of the third for the Cardinals.
The Wildcats answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third to cut the deficit in half. After a single by Barrett and a walk to third baseman Max Kuhn, Reed connected for a two-run double to left center to decrease the Louisville lead to 6-3.
Following a scoreless fourth inning, the Cardinals pounded out a six-spot in the fifth on six hits and one Kentucky error for a commanding 12-3 advantage. Sturgeon started the inning with a double to left center before scoring moments later on a moonshot home run to right field by Gardner to end the day on the mound for Cody. That was followed by a single from Crain, who moved to second when Wasserman reached base on a fielding error by relief pitcher Zach Strecker. After moving up on a wild pitch, Crain scored on a RBI single by Ratajczak that lined off the arm of Strecker and ended his day on the mound.
After lefty Dylan Dwyer entered from the UK bullpen, Young greeted him with an RBI single up the middle to plate Wasserman. Johnson then followed with an RBI double on a ball to shallow right field that dropped between two Wildcats allowing Ratajczak and Young to score the final two runs of the inning.
Kentucky added a run in the bottom of the fifth thanks to four walks from the Cardinals and the Wildcats added their fifth run in the ninth inning on an RBI single by pinch hitter Jacob Russell for the final seven-run margin.
Cody took the loss and dropped to 3-2 on the season after allowing eight runs on nine hits in 4.0+ innings of work. Ruxer allowed three runs on three hits in 2.0+ innings while finishing with a no-decision for the Cardinals. Junior righty Dace Kime (Defiance, Ohio/Defiance HS) followed Ege with 2.1 innings of shutout relief recording all seven outs by strikeout to match a career high.
Up next, Louisville returns to BIG EAST Conference action traveling to Queens, N.Y., for a three-game series at St. John’s starting Friday at 6 p.m., ET in a game that can be viewed online through ESPN3 at WatchESPN.com. Saturday’s game is set for a 2:30 p.m., ET first pitch on CBS Sports Network, while Sunday’s finale will start at noon and will also be available for viewing through ESPN3. Live play-by-play of the entire series can be heard on News/Talk 1570 AM in Louisville.
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