April 1, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Six of the combined seven runs that scored in the game crossed home plate in the first two innings and Villanova (15-14, 2-4 BIG EAST) could not recover from being on the short end of that start to the game and was defeated 6-1 by No. 15 Louisville (20-8, 5-1 BIG EAST) in the rubber game of a three game series at Jim Patterson Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The highlight of the game for the Wildcats was the work of the team's bullpen, as four relief pitchers combined to allow just one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings.
Villanova briefly held a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning but the Cardinals plated three runs in the bottom of the first inning and scored twice more in the bottom of the second to go ahead 5-1 and create some breathing room. When all was said and done the Wildcats had just one less hit than Louisville but stranded 11 runners on base and went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
It looked at the outset like Villanova would pick up on the momentum it created with a 5-2 win in Saturday's game when senior shortstop Marlon Calbi (Montclair, N.J.) reached on an error to start the game and then scored four pitches later when senior third baseman Kevin Wager (Holden, Mo.) doubled into the left field corner. The next three batters were retired in succession however, and the Wildcats wound up scoring their only run of the game before they made their first out.
Wager and freshman first baseman Brandon Carr (Danville, Calif.) each had two hits on the day and the nine total hits for Villanova included doubles from Wager, senior left fielder Matt Fleishman (East Northport, N.Y.) and junior center fielder Paul Rambaud (Chicago, Ill.). Seven different players had at least one hit for the Wildcats in the game.
The three-run rally by the Cardinals in the bottom of the first inning was helped along by a controversial call at home plate with one out, one of five plays at the plate that would take place during the contest. With a runner at second and one out in the bottom of the first Jeff Gardner hit a ball that was knocked down in the hole on the right side of the infield. The runner at second, Nick Ratajczak, rounded third on the play and was caught in a rundown between third base and home plate.
Ratajczak was tagged by senior catcher Adam Nelson (St. Joseph, Mo.) as he retreated towards third base but after the play had ended was eventually ruled to be safe at the plate because Nelson tagged him with his glove while holding the ball in his other hand. The run that Ratajczak was allowed to score tied the game at 1-1, Gardner wound up at second base with one away and Stewart Ijames followed with a run-scoring single that plated Gardner and put Louisville ahead by a 2-1 margin. Ty Young delivered another RBI single to make the score 3-1 before the strange inning finally came to an end.
In the top of the second inning Nelson worked out a seven-pitch walk with one out and then attempted to score with two away on a double down the left field line by Rambaud but a relay throw to the plate cut down Nelson for the final out of the inning.
Gardner and Ijames once again delivered back-to-back singles that scored runs in the bottom of the second inning as the Cardinals stretched their lead to 5-1 and knocked out junior starting pitcher Stephen Ostapeck (Sacramento, Calif.) after he had faced only 13 batters. Ostapeck (2-1, 5.57 ERA) was dealt his first loss in six starts this season and was charged with five earned runs on seven hits in 1 1/3 innings.
He exited with runners at the corners and one out and was replaced by sophomore lefty Matt Meurer (Katy, Texas), who retired the next two batters to end the inning. The first batter Meurer faced grounded a ball to third base and Wager threw Gardner out at the plate for the second out before Ty Young flied out to center.
Meurer started the run of strong performances from the bullpen by going a season-high 3 2/3 innings, during which he allowed just one run on two hits while walking none and striking out two. With a runner at third and one out in the bottom of the fifth inning an error was made on a safety squeeze attempt and the final run of the day scored to make the score 6-1.
Junior Matt Longfield (Miami, Fla.), sophomore Matt Lengel (Devon, Pa.) and senior Jerry Battipaglia (Katonah, N.Y.) each pitched a scoreless inning of relief behind Meurer to finish off the game. Longfield worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning with a strikeout and has now surrendered just two hits in 7 2 /3 innings this season; opposing batters are hitting .083 (2-for-24) against him.
Louisville starting pitcher Travis Tingle (5-1, 4.29 ERA) allowed seven hits and issued three walks in six innings of work but yielded just one unearned run to Villanova and eventually turned the game over to three relievers who each pitched a scoreless inning.
Before returning to conference action next week the Wildcats will host Lafayette at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. Following that game the team heads to West Virginia for a three-game series that will be played from Thursday through Saturday due to the Easter holiday.