(NOTE: Here is the Arizona-Louisville game recap from the Louisville Courier-Journal, one of our Gannett partners. It was written by freelancer Brian J. Pedersen.)
TUCSON — It’s going to be a long, uphill battle for the University of Louisville baseball team if it wants to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals.
That being said, Saturday night must have felt like getting thrown to the bottom of the mountain.
The Cardinals were walloped 16-4 by regional host and top seed Arizona, which battered UofL pitchers for 23 hits that were sprayed to all corners of Hi Corbett Field’s ample outfield.
“That’s not a fun one to recap,” Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell said. “We struggled on the mound and struggled at the plate. It was just a disappointing night all around.”
The loss means No. 3 seed UofL (40-21) must win three straight games to win the regional, including twice on Sunday. First up is No. 4 seed Missouri (33-27) at 7 p.m. EDT, with another matchup against Arizona (40-17) looming for that game’s winner at 11 p.m. EDT.
Those teams would play again Monday night, if necessary.
After managing just one single through the first two innings, Arizona’s bats came alive in the third against UofL freshman Jared Ruxer. The crowd of 4,007 saw the Wildcats chase Ruxer after he allowed six straight 1-out hits to turn a 1-0 Cardinals lead into a 5-1 Arizona advantage.
Relievers Dace Kime, Nick Burdi and Cody Ege fared no better against the Arizona lineup, which came into the game hitting .329 and was a night removed from a 15-3 pounding of Missouri.
Kime allowed two runs in his 2.2 innings, while Burdi was tagged for six runs in 1.2 innings and Ege allowed three in 2.1 innings. Arizona had a seven-run seventh that was capped by a three-run home by defensive replacement Shane Crain, just the 14th home run hit in 39 games played this season at Hi Corbett.
Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year Alex Mejia was 5-for-5 with two doubles, three RBI, four runs scored and two stolen bases for Arizona, which also got four hits from Seth Mejias-Brean and three hits apiece from Bobby Brown, Johnny Field and Joey Rickard.
“Needless to say, it’s gone well for us at the plate the last two nights,” Arizona coach Andy Lopez said.
It could have been an entirely different game had Louisville taken better advantage of its prime scoring chance in the bottom of the first. The Cardinals had five consecutive batters reach base on two singles, two walks and one hit batter, but only one run resulted from that.
That run came on a 1-out RBI single by Stewart Ijames, scoring Nick Ratajczak. Alex Chittenden was then plunked in the back by Arizona starter Konner Wade to load the bases for Cole Sturgeon. A pitch in the dirt got past catcher Riley Moore, but Moore recovered in time to throw home to Wade to tag Ty Young at the plate and effectively kill the UofL rally.
Sturgeon walked to reload the bases, but then Wade got Zak Wasserman to foul pop out to third.
“I think we’d be fooling ourselves,” McDonnell said when asked if a better first inning would have changed the game. “I don’t think that (would have) affected them at the plate. And we didn’t have a lot of quality at-bats the rest of the night. Our offense was there at one point, but it hasn’t been there in a while.”
After that, UofL’s only offensive output came in the sixth when, down 8-1, the Cardinals scored two runs on a swinging third strike with two outs by Kyle Gibson. The ball got past Arizona catcher Riley Moore to let one run score, then Moore’s throw down to first hot Gibson in the back to plate another run.
But Arizona’s seven-run seventh ended any chance of a late UofL comeback.
Down 16-3, UofL also scored a run in the bottom of the ninth on a wild pitch.