Back-to-back eighth inning home runs from sophomores Nick Solak and Corey Ray opened a decisive four-run frame for No. 2 Louisville in Monday night’s 9-5 series-clinching win over Clemson at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
After the host Tigers gained their first lead of the night at 5-4 with a run in the seventh, the Cardinals (37-11, 21-3 ACC) answered the bell in a big way with Solak (Woodridge, Ill.) and Ray (Chicago, Ill.) combining for the team’s first back-to-back home runs since 2012. Solak led off the inning by belting an 0-1 pitch from reliever Clate Schmidt into the left field seats for his first home run of the season. Ray followed by clubbing a 1-2 offering over the Cajun Café beyond the right field wall for his second homer of the series and his team-leading 11th of the season.
Louisville, which received its highest ranking of the season earlier in the day on Monday landing at No. 2 in the D1Baseball.com and NCBWA polls, added RBI singles from sophomores Will Smith (Louisville, Ky.) and Logan Taylor (Lexington, Ky.) to cap the four-run eighth, while Ray scored from third on a balk in the ninth for the final tally of the evening. The Cardinals clinched their eighth straight ACC series victory and their 10th straight series win overall with Monday’s triumph.
“We really showed some toughness tonight. I like Clemson’s lineup and with them playing at home and playing well, you have to show some toughness, especially at this time of the year,” said Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell. “It’s about competing, which we didtonight and I’m really pleased with the guys.”
Ray finished the night 3-for-5 at the plate, while freshman Brendan McKay (Darlington, Pa.) was 2-for-4 with two RBI on his second home run of the season and also scored twice. Freshman Blake Tiberi (Taylor Mill, Ky.) added his fourth home run of the season as Louisville finished with four home runs as a team, the first time they have accomplished that feat since May 1, 2010 against Rutgers. During a span of 10 innings beginning with the seventh inning of Sunday’s win and ending with the eighth inning of Monday’s triumph, the Cardinals hit six home runs overall.
On the mound, freshman righty Lincoln Henzman (Lexington, Ky.) had three strikeouts in 2.1 innings of shutout relief to close the game in winning fashion and move to 4-1 on the season. Sophomore lefty starter Josh Rogers (New Albany, Ind.) earned a no-decision allowing four runs on 10 hits in 5.0+ innings.
For the second straight night, the Cardinals found the scoring column in the first inning against the Tigers after McKay connected on a 2-1 pitch from Clemson starter Jake Long sending it down the right field line and over the wall. Solak started things for Louisville in the first inning with a one-out walk before McKay delivered his two-out homer.
The Tigers (24-23, 13-13 ACC) plated their first run of the night in the third inning on a RBI single through the left side by Reed Rohlman to score Eli White. Tyler Slaton started the inning with a single to left and was replaced at first by White on a fielder’s choice grounder. After moving to second on a walk by Steven Duggar, White scored later in the inning to cut the Louisville advantage to 2-1.
The Cardinals added to their lead with a pair of runs in the fifth inning, starting with a solo home run by Tiberi. The designated hitter sent a 2-2 offering from Long over the right field wall for his fourth homer in 72 at-bats this season. Louisville’s second run of the inning came on a RBI sacrifice fly by senior Mike White (East Orange, N.J.) to score freshman Ryan Summers (Westfield, Mass.), who singled, stole second and moved to third on a fielder’s choice off the bat of freshman Devin Hairston (Lexington, Ky.)
Clemson answered in the bottom of the fifth with a trio of runs to even the score at 4-4. The first two runs of the inning scored on back-to-back RBI singles by Tyler Krieger and Rohlman, while the tying run was pushed home on a RBI groundball off the bat of Weston Wilson.
The Tigers gained their only lead of the night in the seventh inning on a two-out RBI single to right by Eli White to score Wilson for the 5-4 edge. Wilson walked earlier in the inning against Louisville lefty Robert Strader (Louisville, Ky.), moved to second on a single by Slaton before scoring on White’s single.
The advantage was short-lived for Clemson after Louisville’s four-run eighth inning. Following the back-to-back home runs by Solak and Ray, Alex Bostic took over on the mound for the Tigers and immediately walked McKay and allowed a single by Lucas. Taylor Vetzel then took his turn on the mound for the home club allowing the RBI single to left by Smith to score McKay. After a walk to Hairston loaded the bases, Taylor drove in Lucas with RBI single for the 8-5 lead.
An inning later, Ray led off the ninth with a single to right, moved to second on an error at first base on a pickoff attempt, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored the final run of the night on a balk by Vetzel. Schmidt was charged with the loss for the Tigers and dropped to 1-3 on the season after allowing two runs on two hits in one inning of relief.
Up next, the No. 2 Louisville visits Kentucky on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., ET in the second and final game of the season series between the two in-state foes. Last Tuesday night, the Cardinals earned a 2-1 win in 10 innings against the Wildcats at Jim Patterson Stadium in Louisville.
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