The second-ranked Louisville baseball team used a three-run ninth inning to earn a dramatic 8-5 road win at NC Stateon Saturday afternoon and set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for league wins in a single season.
Having already clinched the ACC Atlantic Division title as well as the top seed in next week’s ACC Championship, the Cardinals closed the regular season at 42-14 overall and 25-5 in the ACC, including winning all 10 league series. The conference win total in Louisville’s inaugural season in the ACC is one game better than the previous mark top mark of 24-6 accomplished five times.
The top-seeded Cardinals are joined in Pool A of the 2015 ACC Championship by No. 4 seed Florida State, No. 5 Clemson and the winner of Tuesday’s No. 8 North Carolina-No. 9 Virginia Tech play-in game. Pool B features No. 2 seed and Coastal Division champion Miami, No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 6 NC State and the winner of the No. 7 Virginia-No. 10 Georgia Tech play-in game. The complete schedule of games and times for the ACC Championship at Durham Bulls Athletic Park will be announced on Sunday.
Saturday’s series-deciding game entered the ninth inning tied at 5-5 after the host Wolfpack (31-20, 15-14 ACC) plated a pair of runs in the eighth to erase the Louisville advantage. However, the Cardinals answered the challenge with a trio of runs in the ninth, highlighted by a run-scoring bunt by senior Zach Lucas (Louisville, Ky.) to plate sophomore Corey Ray (Chicago, Ill.).
The decisive scoring chance started with a double by Ray, which narrowly missed putting the Cardinals in front when sophomore Nick Solak (Woodridge, Ill.) tried to score from first but was called out on a close play at home on a nicely executed relay by the Wolfpack. After Ray moved to third on the throw from the outfield, freshman Brendan McKay (Darlington, Pa.) earned a one-out walk and was then replaced by pinch runner Ryan Summers (Westfield, Mass.).
Moments later, Ray easily scored the game-winning run on a perfectly executed a bunt to the left side of the infield by Lucas, who reached base on the play after NC State reliever Tommy DeJuneas was unable to field the ball. Following a two-out walk to sophomore Will Smith (Louisville, Ky.) to load the bases, sophomore Logan Taylor (Taylor Mill, Ky.) delivered a two-run single through the right side on a 2-2 pitch from reliever Will Gilbert to plate Lucas and Summers for the final margin.
After recording the final two outs of the eighth inning, sophomore righty Zack Burdi (Downers Grove, Ill.) returned to the mound in the ninth to close out the victory and improve to 5-0 on the season. Making his second appearance of the weekend, Burdi finished with four strikeouts in 1.2 innings of shutout relief.
At the plate, Ray was 2-for-5 with two doubles, three runs scored, one RBI and one stolen base. Hitting in the number three spot in the Louisville lineup throughout the season, Ray closed the regular season as the team leader in home runs (11), RBI (48), runs scored (45) and stolen bases (31-for-39). Lucas finished the day 2-for-4 at the plate with one RBI and one run scored, while Solak was 2-for-2 and scored once.
The Wolfpack struck first on Saturday when Andrew Knizner connected on a 3-2 offering from Louisville lefty Josh Rogers (New Albany, Ind.) sending it down the right field line for his fifth home run of the season and a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
The Cardinals found the scoring column for the first time in the third inning plating three unearned runs on two NC State errors and no hits. After loading the bases with two walks and a hit-by-pitch from Wolfpack starter Curt Britt, Louisville’s first run was plated when senior Sutton Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa.) scored from third on a fielding error by shortstop Logan Ratledge. Moments later, Ray and McKay scored on an error by second baseman Ryne Willard, who sailed his throw over first baseman Preston Palmeiro and into the Wolfpack dugout.
Louisville added to the lead with a pair of runs in the fifth inning on a RBI double from Ray and a RBI single by McKay. Solak led off the inning with a single up the middle before scoring moments later when Ray sent a 0-1 offering from NC State reliever Johnny Piedmonte down the right field line. McKay followed with a single up the middle to drive Ray home for the 5-1 advantage.
NC State cut the margin in half in the sixth inning on the seventh home run of the season for Joe Dunand. After Rogers issued a one-out walk to Palmeiro, Dunand sent a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall drawing the Wolfpack within two at 5-3.
Two innings later, NC State erased the Louisville lead with a pair of runs in the eighth to even the score at 5-5. Ryne Willard scored the first run of the frame on a wild pitch by Burdi. Bubby Riley followed with a two-out RBI single up the middle to score Dunand for the equalizer.
Rogers finished with a no-decision for the Cardinals allowing three runs on four hits with four strikeouts in six innings. Sophomore Jake Sparger (Eau Claire, Wis.) followed Rogers and allowed two runs, including one unearned, on one hit with two strikeouts in 1.1 innings of relief before giving way to Burdi.
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