By Jason Wyrick
Photo by Roscelle Griffin
On a beautiful night at the ballpark, the Battle of the Bluegrass: Baseball Edition began play at a blistering pace between the Kentucky Wildcats and the #10 Cards. A favorite umpire among pitchers’ circles, Perry Costello lived up to his reputation, calling an enormous strike zone as Luke Smith took the hill for Dan McDonnell’s Cards. Smith, a junior JUCO product from Champaign, Illinois by way of Parkland College mowed down the first six batters he faced. His opposite was Mason Hazelwood, a 6-5 sophomore southpaw from Mercer County, Kentucky. Hazelwood took the hill for Nick Mingione’s Cats and also benefitted from Costello’s large zone, he himself also not allowing a baserunner until the 3rd.
The quick pace would not last, however. In the top of the 3rd, Luke Smith loaded the bases with two outs and could not quite escape unscathed. T.J. Collette blooped a single just in front of Ethan Stringer, scoring two. Smith struck out the next batter to escape the second and third jam. The damage was done, but it was limited to a mere two run deficit.
Louisville would strike back immediately in the bottom half, thanks in part to a Coltyn Kessler error allowing the speedy Drew Campbell to reach. Ethan Stringer “let a cat loose in the alley,” as radio broadcaster Sean Moth would describe, scoring Drew from first. Jake Snider would follow that up by roping a pitch off the wall in right, a mere few inches from getting out of the yard. Nonetheless, Stringer scored from second to knot the game at 2-all on a stand up triple from Snider.
Luke Smith began the top of the 4th inning with a single and a walk. His day would end there. Adam Elliott came on in relief and cleaned up the mess with relative ease, striking out two and gunning down a safety squeeze attempt at first.
In the bottom of the 4th inning, the Cards blew the doors off and would not look back. Mason Hazelwood put the first two on before being pulled in what was the first of a plethora of Cats pitching changes. Zeke Pinkham, with runners at the corners and no outs, beat the shift and took a pitch the opposite way to take the lead. After another Kentucky pitching change, the bases were loaded via the walk. Ethan Stringer wore a pitch for an RBI and Jake Snider singled to plate two more.
That would ultimately be the last time the game was close. Although Kentucky threatened in the top of the 8thloading the bases and plating one on starter-turned-long reliever Bryan Hoeing, Michael Kirian took the reins and struck out his first two faced to retire the side, limiting the damage to the lone run and keeping the lead at 8-3.
A slew of Kentucky pitchers and errors would provide ample opportunities for the Cards to score. It is expected that a top-10 team will punish mistakes and Dan McDonnell’s boys did just that, scoring seven unearned runs on three Kentucky errors while only mustering seven hits against the seven different pitchers that threw for the Cats.
My player of the game is Jake Snider, who has become the Kentucky killer in recent memory for the Cards. Jake went 2-4 with 3 runs batted in and a run scored, accounting for half of Louisville’s runs by himself. Adam Elliott got the win in relief, going two full innings and allowing no hits with three strikeouts and a walk. Bryan Hoeing went 2 1/3 innings, shutting down the Cats bats down the stretch before Michael Kirian slammed the door out of the pen.
In a game that saw 11 different pitchers in only 8 1/2 innings, the bullpen catchers do indeed deserve honorable mention in the player of the game analysis. The Battle of the Bullpens… err… Bluegrass first leg not only went to the Cards, but showed a ton of promise for the boys in red. With Alex Binelas playing valuable innings in the absence of Lucas Dunn and Bryan Hoeing excelling in his new role in relief, Louisville looks even more dangerous than it already has, and for the ACC and potential regional opponents, that should not be a fun thought to entertain.
Louisville Baseball will next be in action for a weekend ACC series at Clemson beginning Friday. The Cards will face these Kentucky Wildcats for leg two of the Battle of the Bluegrass in two weeks in Lexington.
Jason Wyrick is a contributor for River City Cards. You can follow him on social media @Steagles1.