Feb. 25, 2012
Box Score |
By Adam Pruiett, UofLsports.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The sight of Stewart Ijames hammering a home run is not uncommon. But the image of him stealing home Saturday was one for the time capsule of his distinguished career with the Louisville baseball team.
Ijames' theft of home wasn't even the most unusual play at Jim Patterson Stadium, which is saying something considering it was anything but a straight steal. The No. 16 Cardinals captured a 10-7 victory over pesky Oakland in a contest that reinforced the time-honored belief that baseball is a strange game.
For starters, Louisville (5-1) set several new standards, both positive and negative. In addition to their highest run total of the year, the Cardinals also registered a season-high in hits (14), including three home runs. Louisville's pitching staff combined to strike out a season-best 14 batters.
But there was a flipside, numbers Louisville doesn't want to reach any time soon. The Cardinals' pitchers allowed season-highs in hits (12) and walks (seven), with Oakland (0-3) keeping things interesting until Louisville junior right-hander Matt Koch (Cherokee, Iowa/Washington HS) collected the save in the ninth with the tying run at the plate for the Cardinals' fifth straight win.
Ijames (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) clubbed a pair of home runs in going 2-for-2 with three RBI, three runs and two walks. The senior first baseman/outfielder got Louisville on the board in the second by walloping a homer to right center off Oakland starter Brady Adamek (0-1). Ijames added his second round-tripper in the fifth inning, greeting new pitcher Jason Hager with a soaring two-run shot over the right field fence.
In between, Ijames picked up one of the most memorable of his 18 career stolen bases. In the fourth inning, Ijames burst toward home plate in anticipation of a squeeze bunt by junior outfielder Matt Helms (Eufaula, Okla./Seminole State CC). However, Adamek's pitch was in the dirt, negating any chance Helms had of getting a bunt down. Catcher John Estes blocked the pitch, which caromed in front of the plate and trickled toward the top of the batter's box on the right-handed hitters' side. Ijames never broke stride, eluding the lunge of Estes with a savvy slide and swiping the plate with his left hand.
Ijames was one of many Louisville standouts offensively. Sophomore centerfielder Adam Engel (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland HS), junior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC), sophomore designated hitter Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky./Whitefield Academy HS), sophomore third baseman Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) and sophomore catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky./Henderson County HS) all had two hits apiece for Louisville. Junior first baseman Zak Wasserman (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore HS) blasted a two-run homer in the eighth.
After Ijames' second home run gave Louisville a 5-1 lead in the fifth, the Cardinals appeared in command following the outing of starting pitcher Jeff Thompson (Greenville, Ind./Floyd Central HS). The sophomore right-hander moved to 2-0 on the season after striking out five and allowing three hits and one earned run in five innings.
Tim Ryan, who went 3-for-6 with two RBI and two runs, reached on an error to lead off the seventh, and things didn't go smoothly for Louisville from there. Freshman right-hander Jared Ruxer (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS) allowed three runs before Koch fanned two Grizzlies looking to finish the inning as Oakland rallied back to within 5-4.
Louisville responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh. Ratajczak led off by roping a double into the right field corner, and Gardner slammed a double off the wall to bring him home and extend his hitting streak to 10 games dating back to last season. Sophomore shortstop Alex Chittenden (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS) followed with a sacrifice fly for a 7-4 lead.
The most bizarre play of the wacky game occurred in the eighth inning. With two runners on base against Koch, it initially appeared as if Oakland's Aaron Cieslak struck out looking to end the inning. However, Gibson dropped the third strike, picked the ball up and, with his teammates heading toward the dugout and Cieslak not making a move to first base, tossed the ball toward the pitcher's mound without tagging Cieslak. At that point, with the umpires not signaling an out, Cieslak broke toward first. Sophomore third baseman Ryan Seiz (Perkasie, Pa./Christopher Dock HS) raced in, scooped the ball up and flipped to first, but Cieslak beat the throw and Jake Morton scored to cut the Cardinals' advantage to 7-5.
Koch got out of the jam by striking out Nolan Jacoby looking. It was his sixth strikeout in 1.2 innings and all of them were looking, adding more uniqueness to the game.
Gibson immediately redeemed himself in the bottom half by leading off with a single to center. That set up Wasserman, who cranked a two-run shot to right for his second home run of the season and third of his career. Sophomore outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) followed with a walk, stole second and came home on Engel's single for a 10-5 lead.
Oakland refused to go quietly. The Grizzlies scored two runs in the ninth off Koch and twice had the tying run at the plate with two runners on before Koch struck out Mike Carson looking to seal his second save of the season. Koch finished with seven strikeouts, all looking.
Sophomore left-hander Cody Ege (Cherokee, Iowa/Cherokee Washington HS) didn't allow an earned run in one inning of relief for Louisville, which will host Oakland at noon Sunday in the series finale. Admission to the game is free.
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