Junior 2B Nick Ratajczak
Feb. 28, 2012
By Adam Pruiett, UofLsports.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Eastern Illinois baseball team's record had belied the shrewd efficiency of its pitching staff. Unfortunately for Louisville on Tuesday, the Panthers' pitching didn't provide a silver lining. It set the gold standard in a 3-2 victory at Jim Patterson Stadium.
The loss ended No. 14 Louisville's sizzling string of six straight wins. The Cardinals (6-2) hadn't been beaten since their opening game against Minnesota in the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge in Florida. By contrast, the victory halted a four-game losing streak by Eastern Illinois (2-4).
Eastern Illinois' reversal of fortune could be attributed to the Panthers' pitching, which boasted a terrific 2.20 team ERA coming into the game and was a bright spot in the team's rough start that included three one-run losses. Starter Troy Barton and reliever Adam Clark were particularly impressive, combining to hold Louisville without a run through eight innings. Barton (1-0) gathered the win after allowing three hits and no earned runs in 5.1 innings while Clark yielded one run over 2.2 innings.
Despite its struggles on offense, Louisville still had an opportunity to tie or win the game in the ninth after trailing 3-0. The Cardinals had the winning run at the plate with no outs. That scenario occurred when sophomore shortstop Alex Chittenden (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS) walked against Clark to lead off the ninth, senior outfielder/first baseman Stewart Ijames (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) laced a single against newly inserted pitcher Darin Worman and sophomore third baseman Ty Young (Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) was hit by a pitch.
Eastern Illinois closer Keith Koser relieved Worman, and Louisville promptly scored its first run when junior outfielder Matt Helms (Eufaula, Okla./Seminole State CC) grounded into an RBI fielder's choice that plated Chittenden. Following a pop out, sophomore leftfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) cut the Cardinals' deficit to 3-2 when he lined an RBI single to right field to plate freshman pinch runner Sutton Whiting (Louisville, Ky./Ballard HS). Koser ended the threat, though, by recording a strikeout to earn his first save of the season.
Louisville tallied seven hits, with Sturgeon leading the way with two. Ijames, Chittenden, junior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC), sophomore designated hitter Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky./Whitefield Academy HS) and sophomore catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky./Henderson County HS) all had one hit apiece.
Louisville's pitching staff, and particularly its relieving corps, had a solid game. Sophomore right-hander Dace Kime (Defiance, Ohio/Defiance HS) tossed 3.2 innings and struck out five without allowing an earned run while sophomore left-hander Cody Ege (Cherokee, Iowa/Cherokee Washington HS), sophomore right-hander Chad Green (Effingham, Ill./Effingham HS) and senior right-hander Derek Self (Cave City, Ky./Caverna HS) teamed for two innings of scoreless relief. Freshman right-hander Nick Burdi (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South HS) took the loss, moving to 1-1 on the season after allowing five hits and two earned runs in 3.1 innings in his second start in a Cardinals uniform. Louisville's pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts.
Eastern Illinois scored twice in the fourth inning and added another run in the sixth. Jacob Reese's successful execution of a squeeze bunt plated the Panthers' first run, and Brant Valach brought in the second with an RBI single. The last run came across when T.J. McManus doubled and eventually scored on an errant pick-off attempt at third base.
Louisville hosts Pepperdine in a three-game series starting at 3 p.m., ET Friday. The following two contests will be at 1 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Admission to the games is free.