March 24, 2012
Recap by Adam Pruiett, UofLsports.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The next pitcher who exits the first inning unscathed against the University of Louisville baseball team will likely breathe a resounding sigh of relief heard throughout the ballpark.
In a BIG EAST Conference opener that began Friday night and concluded Saturday afternoon after being suspended due to inclement weather, the No. 21 Cardinals gave league rival Cincinnati their customary hostile welcome, racking up eight runs in the initial frame and riding a splendid outing from Justin Amlung in a 10-2 victory over the Bearcats at Jim Patterson Stadium.
Play was suspended Friday night with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning due to lightning. Nearly an hour later, with play still halted, driving rain pounded the field, sending the Cardinals scurrying to the clubhouse and the Bearcats to their bus. Bursts of thunder and lightning continued along with heavy rain, and the umpires decided to push the remainder of the game until Saturday immediately before the second of the three-game set.
The Cardinals provided plenty of electricity before the storm arrived. The game marked the ninth straight where Louisville (16-6, 1-0 BIG EAST) scored in the first inning. Overall this season, the Cardinals have outscored their opponents 42-4 before their first three outs have been recorded. The early run support for the pitchers has been especially generous in the last three contests: 20 runs combined in the opening frame, including eight apiece against Ball State and Cincinnati.
Christian McElroy actually pitched well for the Bearcats (8-12, 0-1) after going through Louisville's lineup once. Unfortunately for Cincinnati's starting pitcher, all nine Louisville players reached base in their first at-bat, with five rapping hits and eight of them scoring. McElroy (1-2) didn't help his chances of a good start by walking leadoff man Adam Engel (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland HS) and then hitting both junior second baseman Nick Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Gulf Coast CC) and cleanup man Stewart Ijames (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS).
In between the plunking of Ratajczak and Ijames, sophomore leftfielder Jeff Gardner
(Louisville, Ky./Whitefield Academy HS) brought in the first run with an RBI single. Reigning BIG EAST Player of the Week Ty Young
(Coatesville, Pa./Malvern Prep) didn't homer in his first plate appearance like he did in the previous two games, but the sophomore third baseman did maintain his first-inning proficiency by lacing a two-run single to right. Young has hit safely in seven straight games and collected at least one RBI in all but one.
Freshman infielder Zach Lucas (Louisville, Ky./Butler HS) and junior designated hitter Zak Wasserman (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore HS) continued the siege with RBI singles, and McElroy threw away a force-out chance at third base for another run after fielding a sacrifice bunt attempt by sophomore catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky./Henderson County HS). Sophomore outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS) became Louisville's ninth consecutive batter to reach base when he slapped an RBI single up the middle for an 8-0 lead.
Amlung (Louisville, Ky./St. Xavier HS) won his third straight start by matching his career high of nine strikeouts, a personal record he established in his previous outing against Ball State. The junior right-hander struck out the side in the first inning and allowed only one run despite base runners reaching in all seven of his innings. Amlung (4-2) surrendered six hits while walking two as the BIG EAST's Preseason Pitcher of the Year got off to an exceptional start in league action.
Ratajczak upped his hitting streak to 13 games when he lined a single to right in the sixth inning. Ratajczak and Gardner combined to go 9-for-9 in their first nine plate appearances in Tuesday's 20-0 romp over Ohio State. Against the Bearcats, Gardner walloped his first home run of the season in the fourth, a solo shot that sailed just inside the foul pole in right. Cincinnati head coach Brian Cleary briefly disputed the call before returning to the dugout. Gardner was 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs and is 6-for-9 with six RBI over his last two games.
After the postponement, freshman right-hander Joe Ceja (Ottawa, Ill./Marquette Academy) took over on the mound for Louisville in the eighth inning. Cincinnati scored once before Engel made a fine running catch to flag down a deep shot by shortstop Matt Williams to the warning track. Engel wasn't finished with the spectacular play, launching the first home of his career to left in the bottom half. The solo blast extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
Sophomore left-hander Cody Ege (Cherokee, Iowa/Cherokee Washington HS) set the Bearcats down in order in the ninth for the Cardinals, who have won five straight. Gardner and Sturgeon had two hits apiece while Engel, Ratajczak, Ijames, Lucas and Wasserman had one apiece.
Third baseman Joey Bielek had two hits for Cincinnati. McElroy allowed eight earned runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings. He had three wild pitches. Brad Mergen then threw 1.2 innings.
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