Louisville Baseball Game Notes
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Pick most any team statistic in the BIG EAST Conference and the chances are good that the University of Louisville sits at the top. In the most important category, however, the Cardinals are still lurking just below the prime position.
No. 22 Louisville (36-17 overall, 16-8 BIG EAST) will look to change that in its final regular-season conference series of 2012, and the Cardinals will also need some help. Louisville enters its BIG EAST series finale at Pittsburgh one game behind leader St. John's (17-7) and tied for second with USF (16-8). The Cardinals will open the road series with the Panthers (27-24, 9-15) at 6 p.m., ET on Thursday and follow that contest with games at 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday.
If Louisville were to sweep the series, the Cardinals would still need St. John's to lose once at Seton Hall for a share of the conference crown. The good news for Louisville is the Pirates (15-9) are in fourth place in the league - and still have a lot to play for - and they dealt the Cardinals their only series loss of the season, which came at Jim Patterson Stadium and proves Seton Hall is formidable on the road.
USF, meanwhile, concludes its BIG EAST slate at West Virginia (7-17). Louisville won its series over the Bulls and St. John's, so the Cardinals own the tiebreaker in the event of a co-championship in regard to the BIG EAST Championship seedings.
"We've got to play every game as if it's the last game of the year and embrace the situation we're in right now and love every single second of it," said senior first baseman/outfielder Stewart Ijames (Owensboro, Ky./Owensboro Catholic HS), who leads Louisville with 12 home runs and 59 RBI. "We know exactly what we're up against, and we've just got to come out and play and compete every single day."
To a man, the Cardinals believe they'll have to sweep Pittsburgh for any shot at their first regular-season conference title since garnering back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. Senior right-hander Derek Self (Cave City, Ky./Caverna HS) said nothing can be taken for granted.
"I don't have a doubt about St. John's, not one bit. They're good," said Self, who has a team-best seven saves. "We can't worry about them. We have to worry about us. We need to sweep, and our goal is to go up there and sweep."
Senior right-hander Travis Tingle (Louisville, Ky./Cleveland State CC) said achieving a sweep will take a considerable effort from the Cardinals. He noted the Panthers are still in contention for the eighth and final slot in the BIG EAST Championship. Right now, Pittsburgh is one game back of Villanova.
"They've got a lot on the line, too," Tingle said. "Definitely this weekend we have to sweep. All our goals are set on one weekend. If we have that mentality and come to every game ready to play, it should happen."
Rick Devereaux leads Pittsburgh in most offensive categories, including batting average (.371), homers (seven) and RBI (54). The Pirates have five additional hitters at .300 or better. Pitcher Matt Iannazzo leads them in wins at 7-3.
Reigning BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week Justin Amlung (Louisville, Ky./St. Xavier HS), who has surrendered a single run over his last three starts, will look to get Louisville off on the right track. Succeeding the Cardinals' ace will be sophomore right-hander Jeff Thompson (Greenville, Ind./Floyd Central HS), who leads Louisville with nine wins, and freshman right-hander Jared Ruxer (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central HS), who is 7-1 and has been outstanding since earning the No. 3 spot in the starting rotation.
With the BIG EAST's top offense and pitching, Louisville knows it has the ability to earn its first conference sweep since opening with three wins over Cincinnati. It would be the ideal bookend to the regular season.
"Our goal is to sweep every series and there's no reason why we shouldn't," said Amlung, who is 8-3 with a 1.99 ERA. "I'm not approaching this series any differently than any other BIG EAST series. We've got to come out and play good ball."
Added Ijames, "We're not in the driver's seat, but we know we're in good sitting. Our motto right now is we've got to play every game hard and finish every game."
The entire series at Pittsburgh can be heard live on News/Talk 1570 AM (WNDA) and through CardsTV at UofLsports.com.
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