SOUTH BEND, Ind. – 18 innings of baseball, two games in one, an unscheduled doubleheader played out in true college form in the heart of Indiana at Frank Eck Stadium Saturday. No. 11 Louisville and No. 25 Notre Dame engaged in an instant classic, as Corey Ray’s home run in the 18th inning carried the Cards to victory 6-4 clinching the series.
The 18-inning exercise in bullpen management, was the second longest game ever played at Frank Eck Stadium, and tied the longest game in school history for UofL (17-6, 7-1 ACC).
Louisville stretched their winning streak to six games and has won 12 of their last 14 contest.
Ray, after receiving advice from Cardinal head coach Dan McDonnell, sauntered to the plate to lead off the 18th frame and on a 3-1 look from Notre Dame (15-6, 3-5 ACC) reliever Scott Tully, teed off and sent the pitch over the right field wall registering his third four-bagger on the year in addition to giving Louisville a 5-4 lead.
Nine plate appearances culminated in a 4-for-8 day at the dish for Ray. Will Smith, Louisville’s sophomore backstop, added a two-out RBI base hit that scored freshman sensation Brendan McKay further in to the frame, resulting in a two-run insurance policy for the Cards.
“Coach McDonnell challenged me before the final at-bat to not try to do too much and to instead to just put a good swing on it,” explained Ray after the game. “As the game got deeper and deeper, our focus was on having good at-bats, stuffing on defense and for the pitchers to throw strikes. We knew we’d have a chance to break through for the win if we stayed mentally tough. Our pitchers did a great job today and we feel like our pitching staff can stand up against any in the country.”
A total of six Cardinal pitchers occupied the mound this day as the staff combined for 21 total strikeouts. Freshman RHP Sean Leland was Louisville’s rock however, the young hurler pitched a flawless 18th inning to wrap up two frames of shutout relief, and earn his first NCAA win. Correspondingly, Louisville’s bullpen strengthened around each other to permit only one run, while scattering four hits and tallying nine K’s in the course of 11 prevailing IP’s to capture the win and make a prolific statement.
“Coach (Roger) Williams and I are really proud of our pitching staff. We got another quality start from Brendan and an outstanding performance from our bullpen,” said Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell. “Offensively, we swung it well but we just didn’t have a lot to show for it. We showed a lot of toughness on the road against a very good team today.”
McKay, who was making his second career start, fanned 12 Irish batters while giving up three runs on three hits over seven innings of work, and although he got a no-decision, made it clear why he was recruited by Louisville for his pitching ability.
As McKay made his way back to the dugout, freshman Lincoln Henzman was jogging his way to the mound. Henzman logged a flawless relief inning, as sophomore Robert Strader, RHP stud Zach Burdi, Jake Sparger, and Butch Baird all contributed magnificently on the hill for the Cardinals.
The Irish jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the fourth frame, as OF Ricky Sanchez blistered a two-run double to right field that plated Ryan Lidge along with SS Lane Richards.
One inning later the Cards answered, consecutive RBIs in the fifth inning by Louisville’s Sutton Whiting and Nick Solak, knotted things up at 2-2.
The sixth and seventh innings saw back-and-forth scoring as the Irish took the lead again on Robert Youngdahl’s home run off McKay, making it 3-2 in favor of ND, only to have Uof L answer blow-for-blow as Whiting tripled to lead off the seventh, and acting as a 1-2 punch yet again, was scored by an RBI single off the bat of Solak.
Seven innings passed in which both teams utilized gritty pitching and stubborn defense until the 14th inning. Solak started off the Cards in this inning with a triple to right center and then came home on a wild pitch by ND reliever Peter Soloman to score the go-ahead run. Nevertheless, in keeping with the tradition of the contest till this point, ‘Old Notre Dame’ struck back immediately in their half of the 14th when Richards RBI single to left sent star second baseman Cavan Biggio home to score locking the total at 4-4 respectively.
The 14th frame was the story of this game despite Ray’s home run to follow in the 18th. ND let victory slip through their grasps as with runners on the corners, and only one out, Sparger froze the possible game-winning run at third by inducing a 1-2 groundout for the innings second out, and then a 5-3 ground out to end the threat along with the inning, and ultimately the Irish’s’ chances of winning.
- The Louisville bullpen is 11-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 96.0 innings.
- Sophomore outfielder Nick Solak was 3-for-6 with a triple, two RBI and a run scored
- Sutton Whiting was 3-for-7 with a triple, two walks, one RBI and one run scored
- Tully dropped to 2-1 on the year for the Irish after allowing two runs on three hits in one inning of relief.
- Youngdahl and Richards had two hits each for Notre Dame.
- Louisville out hit Notre Dame 19-7.