Cole Sturgeon had three doubles and scored four runs, while Jeff Gardner and Alex Chittenden drove in three runs each as the No. 5 Louisville baseball team won the third annual Battle of the Barrel with Tuesday night’s 11-7 win at Vanderbilt.
After dropping the first two matchups against the Commodores with the traveling barrel trophy on the line, the Cardinals (38-11) claimed the 2014 edition of the game while extending their season-high winning streak to 11 games overall. Louisville has also won three straight games against Vanderbilt (36-13) dating back to last season’s NCAA Super Regional triumph at Hawkins Field.
Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky.) led the way on a great night at the plate for the Cardinals with career highs in both doubles and runs scored in five plate appearances. Gardner (Louisville, Ky.) finished 2-for-4 with his team-leading 18th double of the season and scored once to go with the three RBI, while Chittenden (Indianapolis, Ind.) barreled a two-run homer and added a successful RBI squeeze bunt in the win.
On the mound, junior righty Brandon Alphin (Mt. Washington, Ky.) earned his first career collegiate victory with 2.1 innings of shutout relief to move to 1-0 on the season. Later in the night, freshman righty Jake Sparger (Eau Claire, Wis.) added two innings of scoreless relief before junior righty Nick Burdi (Downers Grove, Ill.) struck out five over the final two innings to close the game.
The Cardinals opened the scoring in the top of the first inning on Tuesday night plating three runs on two hits against Vanderbilt sophomore righty Walker Buehler. After Gardner delivered a RBI groundout to plate junior shortstop Sutton Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa.) for the first run of the game, Chittenden connected for a two-run homer to left center to score Sturgeon and give Louisville a 3-0 advantage. The home run for Chittenden was his first of the season and the second of his career.
The early lead for the Cardinals was short-lived as the Commodores answered with a Vince Conde grand slam in the bottom of the first inning to take a 4-3 advantage. After singles by Dansby Swanson, John Norwood and Zander Wiel loaded the bases, Conde sent a 2-2 offering from Louisville freshman lefty Josh Rogers (New Albany, Ind.) over the left field wall for his third home run of the season.
After a quiet second inning for both teams, fireworks returned in the third as Louisville moved back in front with four runs while ending the night for Buehler. Following a leadoff double, Sturgeon moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from junior first baseman Grant Kay (Omaha, Neb.) before scoring on a RBI single by Gardner to even the score at 4-4. Later in the inning, freshman outfielder Colin Lyman (Algonquin, Ill.) drove in two with a double down the right field line to push the Cardinals back ahead. Another freshman outfielder, Corey Ray (Chicago, Ill.), followed with a RBI single up the middle to score Lyman for the 7-4 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, Vanderbilt turned to the long ball again to cut into the Louisville advantage when Wiel, with a runner on, sent the first pitch of his at-bat over the wall in left for his third home run of the season.
The Cardinals promptly answered with two runs in the top of the fourth inning to push the lead to 9-6. After leading off the inning with his third double of the night, Sturgeon took third when Kay reached base with a bunt before scoring on a wild pitch by lefty Jared Miller. Kay, after advancing from first to third on the wild pitch, scored on an error by catcher Jason Delay when his throw to third sailed into left field.
Loading the bases with no outs, Vanderbilt cut into the margin in the sixth plating a run on a RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of Reynolds. The Commodores’ chance for more was stopped by Sparger, who struck out Conde for the second out and got a flyout to left by second baseman Nolan Rogers for the final out to cling to the 9-7 lead.
After a scoreless seventh inning, Louisville finished the scoring in the eighth with Gardner starting the two-run frame with a RBI double over the head of rightfielder John Norwood to score Sturgeon, who earned a one-out walk from reliever John Kilichowski to reach base. Moments later, Kay, who singled earlier in the inning and advanced to third on the double by Gardner, scored on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Chittenden for the final 11-7 cushion.
Buehler suffered just his second loss of the season and dropped to 8-2 overall on the season after allowing a career-high seven runs, all earned, on six hits in 2.2 innings.
Up next, Louisville will conclude its seven-game road stretch with a weekend series against Temple starting Friday at 3 p.m., ET at Skip Wilson Field in Ambler, Pa. The final two games of the series are scheduled for Saturday (11 a.m.) and Sunday (noon) at Campbell’s Field in Camden, N.J.
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Louisville Postgame Notes
– The three-game winning streak against the Commodores is the Cardinals’ longest such streak in the all-time series with Vanderbilt.
– The Cardinals are the first team to win three straight games over the Commodores since Florida did it in 2012 and are the first squad to win three consecutive road games at Vanderbilt since Oregon did it in the opening series of 2012.
– Louisville improved to 26-3 this season when scoring first and 15-2 when scoring in the first inning.
– The Cardinals have won 45 straight games when scoring five runs or more, including a 29-0 record this season.
– The 11 runs on Tuesday night are the most for Louisville in a single game since a 12-3 win over Xavier on March 30.
– Tuesday night’s game marked the second most runs allowed by Vanderbilt this season.
– Louisville is 34-0 this season when leading after the eighth inning and has won 89 straight games when entering the ninth with the lead going back to May 2012.
– During the current 11-game winning streak, the bullpen has allowed just six earned runs in 41.1 innings.
– Cole Sturgeon became the second Louisville player to finish with three doubles in a game this season joining Grant Kay (March 14 vs. Samford).
– Sturgeon also played in his 215th career game at Louisville moving him into a tie for eighth all-time at Louisville with Matt Berger (1994-97).
– Jeff Gardner has finished with two hits in each of the Cardinals’ last six games. During that six-game stretch, Gardner is hitting .444 with one home run, four doubles, 11 RBI and four runs scored.
– With 2.1 innings of shutout relief on Tuesday, Brandon Alphin extended his career best scoreless streak to 9.2 innings.
– In 10 total appearances this season, all out of the bullpen, Alphin has allowed only one earned run (0.75 ERA) in 12.0 innings.