Feb. 19, 2012
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The 15th-ranked Louisville baseball team closed the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge with a gritty 7-6 victory over Michigan State on Sunday at the Walter Fuller Complex.
With the win, the Cardinals improved to 2-1 overall and 8-1 all-time in the event, while the Spartans dropped to 1-2 on the season. After a disappointing season-opening loss on Friday, Louisville bounced back with a pair of one-run wins against Illinois and MSU to close the weekend.
"We did some good things on the mound with two quality starts and two quality saves and it was nice to get some young guys out there," said Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell. "Offensively, we got contributions from 11 or 12 different guys this weekend, which was good for us. One of the goals going into the weekend was to make sure those 11 or 12 guys got at-bats. We certainly would've liked to have won all three games, but we just didn't play well enough in that first game. Hopefully, we learned a lot about ourselves and about the game of baseball with these three games."
A balanced effort at the plate fueled the Louisville offense as junior first baseman and Michigan native Zak Wasserman (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore HS) had a two-run homer, while sophomore designated hitter Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky./Whitefield Academy) added a two-run triple in the win. Sophomore third baseman Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) had a pair of hits and scored twice and sophomore outfielder Adam Engel (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland HS) finished with two hits and scored once for the Cardinals.
On the mound, sophomore right-hander Chad Green (Effingham, Ill./Effingham HS) came out of the bullpen with 3.0 shutout innings of relief while scattering three hits to go with two strikeouts to earn the victory. After a solid 2.0 innings of relief from freshman righty Jared Ruxer (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS) in his collegiate debut, senior right-hander Derek Self (Cave City, Ky./Caverna HS) pitched 2.0 perfect innings out of the bullpen to earn his first save of the season.
Following a scoreless first inning of action on Sunday morning, the Spartans broke through for an unearned run in the second before the Cardinals took their first lead of the game at 2-1 in the bottom of the frame on the home run by Wasserman. The scoring chance started when Young connected for a two-out single up the middle off MSU starter David Garner. Wasserman followed by sending a 1-2 offering from Garner, who Wasserman played against in high school, over the wall in right center for his first home run of the season and the second of his career.
The Louisville lead was short-lived as Spartans' second baseman Ryan Jones opened the third inning by sending the first pitch he saw from Cardinals' starter Travis Tingle (Louisville, Ky./Cleveland State CC) over the left field wall to even the score at 2-2. MSU added three more runs in the inning to end the day for Tingle, who allowed three earned runs and five total runs on four hits in 2.0+ innings in a no-decision.
Trailing 5-2, the Cardinals started their comeback immediately in the bottom of the third inning plating three runs on two hits against Garner to even the score. Engel led off the inning with a single up the middle and moved to second on a walk to junior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC). Both players scored moments later when Gardner belted a 2-2 offering off the right field wall for a two-run triple, his first career three-bagger. Gardner then tied the score at 5-5 moments later on an RBI sacrifice fly off the bat of sophomore shortstop Alex Chittenden (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS).
An inning later, U of L moved back ahead for good as Young led off the fourth with a double down the right field line, moved to third on a fly ball to center and then scored on an RBI sac fly to left by Sturgeon for a 6-5 advantage. The Cardinals scored their final run two innings later as Ratajczak sent the first pitch of his at-bat against lefty Trey Popp into left field to score pinch runner Matt Helms (Eufaula, Okla./Seminole State CC) from third for a 7-5 lead.
The Spartans cut the deficit in half at 7-6 on an RBI groundout by designated hitter Tony Wieber in the seventh inning, but they would not get any closer as the Cardinals closed the one-run triumph. For MSU, Garner took his first loss of the season after allowing six runs, all earned, on seven hits with four strikeouts and one walk in 3.2 innings of work.
Up next, Louisville will begin a nine-game homestand at Jim Patterson Stadium on Wednesday at 3 p.m., ET against Eastern Kentucky. The opener will be followed by a three-game weekend series against Oakland on Feb. 24-26.
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Louisville Post-Game Notes Cardinals improved to 8-1 all-time in the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge and 26-5 against Big Ten competition since head coach Dan McDonnell was hired prior to the 2007 season.
U of L leads the all-time series with MSU 2-1 and has won the last two.
Cole Sturgeon is the Cardinals' leading hitter through the first three games of the season after going 5-for-9 for a .556 average. He also added an RBI and two runs scored to go with two sacrifices on the weekend.
Sturgeon and Jeff Gardner have hit safely in each of the Cardinals' first three games in 2012. Gardner leads U of L with three RBI.
Derek Self made two appearances out of the Cardinals' bullpen this weekend and was outstanding. He pitched 4.0 scoreless innings allowing three hits with two strikeouts and earning one save.
Adam Engel finished the weekend hitting .385 (5-for-13) with two RBI, two runs and 2-for-2 on stolen bases. He also made several big plays in centerfield, including a diving catch late in Sunday's win over MSU to rob a Spartan hitter of an extra-base hit.
Newcomer Nick Ratajczak went 2-for-8 for a .250 average at the plate in his first weekend, but finished with a .571 on-base percentage after earning three walks and taking three HBPs.
Overall, five different players made their Louisville debuts this weekend - position players Shane Crain, Matt Helms, Nick Ratajczak and Mason Snyder and pitcher Jared Ruxer.
The 2012 edition of the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge ended in a 15-15 tie on Sunday. It marked the first time in the four-year history of the event that it ended without a winner. The BIG EAST entered this year's event looking for a third straight win.