CLEARWATER, Fla. – The top-seeded and fifth-ranked Louisville baseball team opened the 2014 American Conference Championship in impression fashion rolling to a 13-3, seven-inning win over No. 8 seed Memphis on Thursday afternoon at Bright House Field.
In a game shortened by the league’s postseason 10-run rule, the Cardinals (44-13) pounded out 12 hits overall as five different players finished with two hits each. On the mound, sophomore Kyle Funkhouser set a school record for single season wins earning his 12th in 15 starts this season while working into the seventh inning.
With a 1-0 record in the pool play format, Louisville (44-13) will continue its slate in Pool A on Friday at 3 p.m., ET against USF, which dropped its championship opener on Wednesday against Rutgers. Rutgers (1-0 in Pool A) will take on Memphis on Friday at 11 a.m., ET in the opening game of day three.
Funkhouser (Oak Forest, Ill.) finished with eight strikeouts while allowing two earned runs on six hits in 6.1 innings to improve to 12-2 on the season. The talented righthander surpassed the previous school record for wins in a single season held by Jeff Thompson (2013) and Justin Marks (2009). A unanimous All-American Conference First Team selection, Funkhouser has a 1.81 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 99.1 innings this season to go with 17 career collegiate wins.
At the plate, senior outfielder Jeff Gardner (Louisville, Ky.) led Louisville going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI, while senior third baseman Alex Chittenden (Indianapolis, Ind.) was 2-for-2 with a double, three RBI and a run scored. Freshman designated hitter Nick Solak (Woodridge, Ill.) chipped in going 2-for-3 with two RBI and scoring twice, and senior outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Owensboro, Ky.) had two hits and scored three times.
The Cardinals struck first on Thursday when Gardner drove in two with a ringing single to left center off Memphis lefty Caleb Wallingford. Senior catcher Kyle Gibson (Henderson, Ky.) led off the game by reaching base on a throwing error by third baseman Carter White and Sturgeon followed with a bunt single before Solak moved both into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt.
Louisville added to the lead in the second inning with a five-run frame against Wallingford. Gibson started the scoring with a RBI single to center to plate junior second baseman Zach Lucas (Louisville, Ky.), while Solak followed with a run-scoring single to left to send junior shortstop Sutton Whiting (New Wilmington, Pa.) home. After a RBI sacrifice fly by Chittenden scored Gibson, sophomore first baseman Danny Rosenbaum (Lafayette Hill, Pa.) added a two-out, two-run double down the left field line to plate Sturgeon and Solak for the 7-0 lead.
The Tigers broke through for their first runs of the afternoon in the third on a two-run double to left center by outfielder Jake Little to score second baseman Zach Schritenthal and outfielder Darien Tubbs. The Cardinals answered an inning later by scoring four runs in the fourth against reliever Colin Lee. Chittenden started things with a two-run double down the left field line to send Sturgeon and Solak home. After a bases loaded, RBI walk for freshman outfielder Corey Ray (Chicago, Ill.) scored Gardner, Whiting followed with a RBI groundball to drive Chittenden home for the 11-2 cushion.
After Memphis scored a run in the top of the fifth on a RBI sacrifice fly by Barrow, Gardner hammered a 1-0 offering from reliever Conner Porter sending it over the wall and off the palm trees in right field for his team-leading ninth home run of the season and the 23rd of his career. Louisville scored the final run of the game in the sixth when Solak was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to plate Ray.
Wallingford was charged with the loss and dropped to 6-5 on the season after allowing six earned runs on six hits in only two innings. Lee allowed four runs on three hits in his one inning of relief, while Porter was gave up a pair of runs on three hits in three innings for the Tigers.
Louisville Postgame Notes
– Louisville improved to 20-10 all-time at Bright House Field with Thursday’s win.
– The Cardinals are 30-3 this season when scoring first and 18-2 when scoring in the first inning.
– Louisville is 33-2 this season when out-hitting its opponents after finishing with a 12-6 edge on Thursday.
– The Cardinals have won 50 straight games when scoring five or more runs, including a 34-0 record this season.
– Louisville has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 34 of 57 games this season.
– Kyle Funkhouser moved to fifth in single season strikeouts with 100 and is five away from matching fourth-place Justin Amlung, who had 105 in 2012.
– With 17 career collegiate wins, Funkhouser is tied for ninth all-time at Louisville equaling seven other pitchers, including Zack Pitts (17 wins, 2005-08).
– Alex Chittenden played his 212th career game moving him into a tie for 10th all-time at Louisville with Zak Wasserman (2010-13) and Darren Oppel (1990-93).
– With two hits each on Thursday, Jeff Gardner and Cole Sturgeon are tied for the team lead with 24 multiple hit games this season.
– Gardner also leads the Cardinals with 21 multiple RBI games after driving in three on Thursday.
– Nick Solak has started three straight games as the Cardinals’ designated hitter and has finished with two hits in each of those starts. He also has four RBI and four runs scored in the three games.