It was looking to be another rough start for Nick Bennett. He gave up a couple of home runs in the first two innings, and the Flames marched out to a 3-0 lead.
But after Louisville tied it up in the second inning, he found his bearings and managed to finish nearly six innings with a solid outing. Louisville (44-15) would use that, along with timely hits in the second inning, to take a 5-3 victory over Illinois-Chicago (29-22) and advance to the 1-0 game on Saturday.
Both Derrick Patrick and Joshua Figueroa led off the first and second innings with solo home runs, respectively. Ryan Lin-Peistrup added another run on a fielder’s choice that sent Thomas Smart in to score, giving UIC a 3-0 lead after the top of the second inning.
Louisville would get three runs in their half of the second inning that would both ease the anxiety in the game, and help Nick Bennett settle down on the mound. Danny Oriente came up with a timely home run in the second inning that cut the lead to 3-2, his first of the season. An errant throw by UIC allowed Lucas Dunn to reach base and allow Zach Britton to score the tying run.
In the third inning, Alex Binelas dropped a really shallow single that resulted in him advancing to second on the errant throw, and also allowing the Cards to score the go-ahead run. Danny Oriente’s sac fly in the fifth inning added another run to Louisville’s lead, increasing it to 5-3.
While Louisville was adding runs, Nick Bennett got into a groove and finished with a solid start. The junior lefty recovered from a shaky first and second inning by striking out the side in the third, and was fired up with emotion afterwards. Bennett would go on to retire 11 straight batters before finishing his night off, going 5.2 innings pitched and allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits.
Clutch pitching would ultimately close the game for Louisville in the ninth. The Flames plated runners on second and third with no outs (and the go-ahead run at the plate), but Michael McAvene struck out the side to close the game out. McAvene earned his seventh save of the season for his efforts, and reached 100 mph for the first time on his final pitch of the game.
Danny Oriente accounted for all three of the team’s RBIs in the game, finishing 1-for-2 at the plate with his first homer of the season. Tyler Fitzgerald went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a double, while Logan Wyatt drew two walks (now three away from tying the single season record).
The Louisville pitching staff finished with 11 combined strikeouts. Nick Bennett earned the win for his comeback performance today, while Michael McAvene recorded his seventh save of the season.
UIC got two home runs from Derrick Patrick and Joshua Figueroa, along with two of the team’s three RBIs (Ryan Lin-Peistrup accounts for the other). Figueroa had to exit the game after a collision with the safety net near the Louisville dugout in the second inning, with his status currently unknown heading into their elimination game tomorrow against Indiana. Thomas Smart finished 2-for-4 with a double.
U of L will go on to face Illinois State in the 1-0 game tomorrow, slated for a tentative 4 p.m. start. Before that, Illinois-Chicago and Indiana will play in an elimination game at noon.