Sophomore righty Kyle Funkhouser equaled the school record for wins in a single season while the fifth-ranked Louisville baseball team clinched a share of the American Athletic Conference regular season championship with Thursday night’s 5-1 series-opening win against Cincinnati at Jim Patterson Stadium.
The win by the Cardinals (41-13, 17-5 American) combined with a pair of losses by UCF in a doubleheader sweep at Connecticut assured Louisville of its fifth conference championship in the last six seasons. A win in either of the final two games of the series with the Bearcats (22-29, 6-16 American) or another loss by the Knights would clinch the title outright for the Cardinals.
Funkhouser (Oak Forest, Ill.) finished with seven strikeouts and allowed only an unearned run on four hits in six innings for his 11th win of the season equaling the school record total first set by Justin Marks in 2009 and equaled by Jeff Thompson in 2013. In addition, the Louisville ace has not allowed an earned run in the last 40.0 innings pitched dating back to the first inning at Houston on April 11. Overall, Funkhouser is 11-2 with a 1.74 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 93.0 innings pitched this season.
“It’s a great honor to share a record with two pitchers like Justin Marks and Jeff Thompson. We’ve had so many talented pitchers come through this program so it’s special to be in the same discussion as those guys,” said Funkhouser. “The fastball in with two strikes seemed to work for me tonight and I was able to do enough. This was a good win for us as a team but we want to win the conference title outright and we’ll do everything we can to get another one on Friday.”
Following Funkhouser was freshman righty Jake Sparger (Eau Claire, Wis.), who scattered four hits with two strikeouts in 2.2 innings of relief before junior righty Nick Burdi (Downers Grove, Ill.) recorded the final out of the game by strikeout for his 14th save of the season. The hard-throwing righty added to his school record saves total earning his 30th overall and has 54 strikeouts and a 0.58 ERA in 31.0 innings of relief this season.
At the plate, senior third baseman Alex Chittenden (Indianapolis, Ind.) was 2-for-3 with two runs scored, while junior second baseman Zach Lucas (Louisville, Ky.) added an RBI double. Senior catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky.) singled and drove in a run while senior outfielder Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky.) and junior shortstop Sutton Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa.) chipped in with a hit and a run scored each.
After Cincinnati plated the first run of the game in the top of the third inning thanks to a Louisville fielding error, the Cardinals answered in the bottom of the inning when junior outfielder Mike White (East Orange, N.J.) scored from third on a wild pitch by Bearcats’ starter Matt Ring. White led off the inning with a single to center and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky.) before taking third on a groundout.
Louisville gained its first lead of the night in the sixth when Gibson delivered a RBI groundout to score Gardner for the 2-1 lead. Gardner led off the inning with a single to center, moved to second on an infield single by Chittenden before advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt from freshman outfielder Colin Lyman (Algonquin, Ill.). Moments later, Chittenden scored from second for a 3-1 lead when Justin Glass dropped a pop-up in shallow left field off the bat of the Whiting.
The Cardinals added a pair of final insurance runs in the eighth inning when Chittenden and Whiting scored on a two-run double by Lucas. Both Chittenden and Whiting earned walks from Ring to reach base before Lucas sent a 0-1 offering deep into the left center gap for the final 5-1 margin.
Ring was charged with the loss and dropped to 2-3 on the season after allowing five runs, including four earned, on seven hits and four walks in eight innings.
The Cardinals and Bearcats will continue their series on Friday at 6 p.m., ET before concluding the weekend on Saturday at 1 p.m. Admission is free every game of the series.
Louisville Postgame Notes
– The Cardinals have won eight straight against the Bearcats and 16 of the last 18 overall in the series.
– Out-hit 9-7 on Thursday, Louisville improved to 10-9 this season when finishing with fewer hits than its opponent.
– The Cardinals improved to 36-0 this season when leading after the eighth inning and have won 91 straight games overall when entering the ninth inning with a lead.
– Louisville is 31-0 this season when scoring five or more runs and has won 47 straight games overall when reaching the five-run plateau.
– The Cardinals are 27-4 this season against righty starters.
– Louisville has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 31 of 54 games this season.
– With seven strikeouts on Thursday, Kyle Funkhouser moved into a tie for eighth in single season strikeouts at Louisville with 92 equaling the total of Scott Reburn in 1984.
– In his eight conference starts this season, Funkhouser was 7-1 with a 0.99 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 54.2 innings.
– With 16 career wins, Funkhouser is one win away from moving into the Cardinals’ career top 10.
– Mike White made his 11th start of the season on Thursday and the first since April 5 against Memphis.
– Jake Sparger made his fourth straight scoreless relief appearance of two innings or more. In those four outings, he had eight strikeouts and just one walk in 9.1 innings.
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