Early offense and strong pitching ruled the day as the fifth-ranked Louisville baseball team completed pool play at the 2014 American Conference Championship with a 9-3 win over Rutgers on Saturday afternoon at Bright House Field.

The Cardinals (45-14) scored three runs in the first inning and two more in the second to gain command, while sophomore righthander Anthony Kidston matched a career-high with seven strikeouts in seven innings on the mound. With a 2-1 record in Pool A, Louisville advances to Sunday’s American Championship title game where it will face Houston at noon ET on ESPNU. The Cardinals clinched their berth for the final after Memphis knocked off USF on Saturday night in the final game of pool play.

Kidston (Defiance, Ohio) allowed just one earned run and two total runs on four hits and matched a career-high with the seven strikeouts to improve to 7-0 on the season and 12-0 in his collegiate career. The seven innings on Saturday equaled his longest outing of the season, which he has achieved in each of the last two starts and three times overall.

Senior outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky.) led the Louisville offense going 3-for-4 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and one run driven in, while freshman designated hitter Nick Solak (Woodridge, Ill.) was 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored. Junior second baseman Zach Lucas (Louisville, Ky.) added two hits, including his fifth home run of the season, and scored three times, while freshman outfielder Corey Ray (Chicago, Ill.) was 2-for-2 with a triple, one RBI and two walks.

The Cardinals jumped on Rutgers starter Gaby Rosa early with the three-spot in the first. Senior outfielder Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky.) started the scoring with a RBI single to right to plate Sturgeon, who singled earlier in the frame. Senior third baseman Alex Chittenden (Indianapolis, Ind.) followed by driving in Solak with a perfectly executed squeeze bunt. Moments later, Ray laced a RBI triple to right center to score Gardner for the 3-0 advantage.

The Scarlet Knights (30-25) cut into the margin in the bottom of the first on a two-run single by outfielder Vinny Zarrillo to score outfielder Mike Carter and first baseman Brian O’Grady. However, the Cardinals answered with a pair of runs in the second inning starting with a RBI double to right center by Sturgeon to score Lucas, who was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning. Solak followed with a RBI single to center to score Sturgeon for the 5-2 lead.

Following a scoreless third inning, Louisville pushed the advantage to 7-2 in the fourth on a two-run single down the right field line by Solak scoring Lucas and senior catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky.). Both Lucas and Gibson reached on infield singles off Rosa before advancing on a sacrifice bunt by Sturgeon.

The Cardinals kept the gas pedal down in the sixth plating a pair of runs against Rutgers reliever Max Herrmann. Lucas led off the inning by sending a 0-1 offering over the left field wall for his fifth home run of the season. Later in the inning, Chittenden delivered a two-out RBI single to center score Solak for the 9-2 lead. The Scarlet Knights added a run in the eighth on a RBI single by Pat Sweeney to close the scoring.

Rosa, who limited Louisville to just three hits in a victorious eight-inning start in March, was charged with the loss on Saturday and dropped to 6-3 on the season after allowing seven runs, including six earned, on nine hits in 3.1 innings.

Louisville Postgame Notes

– Louisville improved to 20-11 all-time at Bright House Field, including an 18-11 mark in postseason games.

– The Cardinals finished with a 13-6 advantage in hits to improve to 34-2 this season when out-hitting their opponent.

– Louisville has won 51 straight games when scoring five or more runs, including 35-0 record this season.

– The Cardinals have allowed two or fewer earned runs in 36 of 59 games this season, including six straight.

– With his seventh triple of the season on Saturday, Cole Sturgeon moved into a tie for fourth at Louisville equaling five others, including Ty Young (2013) and Doug Lorenz (1998 and 1999).

– Sturgeon increased his career triples total to 14 moving him into sole possession of sixth place all-time at Louisville.

– Saturday also marked the 225th career game for Sturgeon, tied for the sixth most in school history with Daniel Burton (2004-07) and Logan Johnson (2004-07).

– In 17 career starts and 24 overall appearances on the mound, Anthony Kidston is 12-0 with a 2.43 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 103.2 innings pitched.

– The three RBI for Nick Solak were a career-high while the two hits equaled the most for the freshman.

– Starting each of the last five games, Solak has connected for two hits in all five outings (10-for-18 overall) and has a total of seven RBI in those games.

– Corey Ray has also started each of the last five games for the Cardinals going 8-for-13 (.615 average) with three runs scored and five walks.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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