CLEARWATER, Fla. – Ryan Wright had a two-run homer in the opening inning, while Jeff Thompson pitched 4.1 shutout innings to end it as the Louisville baseball fought off elimination again at the Big East Championship with a 7-5 victory against St. John’s on Saturday morning at Bright House Field.
With the win in their third consecutive elimination game, the sixth-seeded Cardinals improved to 32-28 overall, while the No. 2 Red Storm dropped to 34-19. Louisville and St. John’s will play a second semifinal game at 5 p.m., on Saturday with the winner advancing to Sunday’s championship game (noon ET, ESPNU) against either Seton Hall or Connecticut. The Cardinals will be playing their fifth game in four days.
Wright set the tone for the Cardinals in the top of the first by going deep on the first offering from St. John’s lefty starter Brendan Lobban over the left field wall for his team-leading 12th home run of the season and a 2-0 advantage. Freshman outfielder Adam Engel also scored on the home run after leading off the game with an infield single.
With the Cardinals holding a tight 7-5 lead, a runner at third and two outs in the fifth inning, Thompson proceeded to record the final out of the inning and then scattered just three hits over the next four innings with five strikeouts to be credited with the win and improve to 2-1 on the season. Freshman right-hander Chad Green was solid in the starting role for the Cardinals allowing only two unearned runs on just two hits with three strikeouts in 3.2 innings before departing with leg cramps on the 96-degree day in south Florida.
At the plate, Wright finished 1-for-3 with two runs scored while reaching base two other times on intentional walks. Freshman designated hitter Jeff Gardner continued his solid tournament play, going 2-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored, while freshman outfielder Adam Engel went 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI.
For the Red Storm, Lobban took the loss and dropped to 6-2 on the season after allowing six runs on five hits with five walks in 3.2 innings. At the plate, leftfielder Jeremy Baltz had a hit, two RBI and a run scored, while Robert Case was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
After Louisville took the early lead, St. John’s evened the score at 2-2 in the second thanks to a pair of Louisville fielding errors. The inning started with a fielding error at third by sophomore Cade Stallings on a chopper off the bat of Matt Wessinger and continued on a groundball up the middle off the bat of Baltz, which got under the glove of Wright. Those were followed by RBI groundouts Case and Paul Karmas to plate the two unearned runs.
After Louisville stranded three on base to end the top of the third, St. John’s head coach Ed Blankmeyer was ejected for arguing balls and strikes and then proceeded to make repeated physical contact while arguing with home plate umpire Dave Buck.
The Cardinals moved back in front in the top of the fourth scoring four runs on two hits for a 6-2 advantage. After sophomore first baseman Zak Wasserman led off the inning with a single up the middle and Engel was hit by a pitch, Gardner scored both with a two-out, two-run double to left center. After an intentional walk to Wright, his second intentional pass of the day, Gardner moved to third and then scored on wild pitches from Lobban for the third run of the frame. After Ijames walked and Stallings was hit by a pitch to load the bases, freshman catcher Kyle Gibson was hit by a pitch from reliever Eddie Medina to plate Wright for the final run of the inning.
U of L added a run to its lead in the top of the fifth as freshman shortstop Alex Chittenden was hit by a pitch to start the inning, moved to second on a groundout by senior outfielder Drew Haynes and then scored on an RBI single to left field by Engel to make it 7-2.
However, the Red Storm answered with three runs on just one hit and three walks from Cards’ lefty reliever Cole Sturgeon. After the three walks loaded the bases with one out, catcher Joe Witkowski scored on an RBI sacrifice fly by Wessinger for the first run, while an RBI triple to right center by Baltz plated two more to cut the Louisville lead to 7-5.
That is where Thompson entered the game and closed the door on the Red Storm to close out the Cardinals’ third win in as many days after dropping the tournament opener on Wednesday.