(From the University of Louisville)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With the most impressive finish to a regular season in school history, the 10th-ranked Louisville baseball team clinched sole possession of the 2013 BIG EAST Conference regular season championship and won its 16th straight game overall with a 7-4 triumph over No. 16 Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Matching the school record for regular season wins first set in 2010, the Cardinals improved to 46-10 overall and finished with a 20-4 conference mark while the Panthers dropped to 40-15 and 18-6. The 16-game winning streak UofL is the longest active streak in the nation and is the second longest in school history.
“I’m really happy for these kids that they were able to dogpile and enjoy this conference championship,” said head coach Dan McDonnell. “Selfishly, I probably would’ve celebrated yesterday because you don’t get many opportunities to dogpile in college baseball. They showed me a lot of confidence and a lot of resolve and they wanted more – they wanted to be the sole champion of this league.”
With their fourth BIG EAST regular season title in five seasons, Louisville will be the No. 1 seed in next week’s BIG EAST Championship at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. The Cardinals will open the double-elimination tournament on Wednesday with the complete championship schedule to be determined later this evening.
“Baseball is such a crazy game that it doesn’t matter how many games you’ve won because you have to play well the next day. Our goal is to go to Clearwater and play good baseball,” said McDonnell. “I think this will be the toughest BIG EAST Tournament we’ve been a part of. I know our kids will be excited for what should be a great week.”
In Saturday’s win, which also clinched Louisville’s 10th series sweep of the season, junior outfielder Coco Johnson (Benton Harbor, Mich./Central Arizona) led the offense going 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored, while junior outfielder Adam Engel (Cincinnati, Ohio/Loveland HS) was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run. Junior designated hitter Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky./Whitefield Academy) added a key two-run triple, while senior first baseman Zak Wasserman (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore HS) chipped in with an RBI and scored once.
On the mound, junior lefty Cody Ege (Cherokee, Iowa/Washington HS) struck out two in 1.1 innings of shutout relief to earn the win for the Cardinals and improve to 4-1 on the season. With the game hanging in the balance, sophomore righty Nick Burdi (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South HS) earned his third save in five days and his conference-leading 14th save of the season after striking out three in a scoreless ninth inning. Junior righty Dace Kime (Defiance, Ohio/Defiance HS) earned the start for Louisville allowing three runs on six hits with four strikeouts in 4.2 innings for a no-decision.
After a pair of scoreless innings to open Saturday’s series finale, the Cardinals struck first plating five runs in the third against Pittsburgh righty Rhys Aldenhoven. Engel started the scoring with a RBI single through the right side to plate Wasserman. After sophomore shortstop Sutton Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa./Louisville Ballard HS) scored on a wild pitch, Johnson followed with a RBI single through the left side to plate Engel. Gardner followed with his two-run triple down the right field line to score junior infielder Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) and Johnson for the 5-0 advantage.
The Panthers answered with a pair of runs in the fourth on RBI groundouts by designated hitter John Peluso and third baseman Sam Parente and they added another marker in the fifth on a RBI double by catcher Elvin Soto to cut the deficit to 5-3.
The Cardinals followed by adding single runs in the sixth and seventh innings on RBI single by Johnson to score Whiting and a RBI single to left by Wasserman to plate junior outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) for the 7-3 cushion. The Panthers plated a run in the eighth on a RBI groundball off the bat of shortstop Evan Oswald and threatened for more in the ninth loading the bases with just one out. However, Burdi got back-to-back strikeouts of first baseman Steven Shelinsky, Jr., and designated hitter Ronald Sucre to end the game.
For Pittsburgh, Aldenhoven lost for the first time this season and dropped to 8-1 overall after allowing five runs, including four earned, on five hits and two walks in five innings.