Cards pound Pitt, clinch Big East title

The University of Louisville claimed a share of Big East Conference regular season title on Friday night with 12-4 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers. The two teams will close the regular season on Saturday with first pitch scheduled for noon.

Much like the first game of the series, 16th-ranked Pittsburgh grabbed an early 1-0 lead against host Louisville on a solo home run only to see the Cardinals pound out 12 hits and claim a dominating 12-4 victory in front of 3,574 in attendance. The win clinches at least a share of the Big East Conference regular season title and the top-seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

"I'm real happy for these guys to win at least a share of the regular season Big East championship our last year in the league and guaranteeing the number one seed," said U of L head coach Dan McDonnell after the game. "We've been playing really good baseball the last three weeks and we just want to keep that momentum and keep it going."

[MORE: McDonnell compares baseball winning stretch to the NCAA title winning run of the basketball program]

The Panthers lead held until the bottom of the third inning, which saw the 10th-ranked Cardinals explode for six runs, highlighted by a 3-run home run off the bat of Jeff Gardner. Louisville loaded the bases twice in the inning. With two out, Coco Johnson drove in two with a single up the middle.

The Cardinals added two more in the bottom of the fourth inning on an RBI double by Adam Engel and an RBI sacrifice fly by Nick Ratajczak.

Aided by a pair of walks and two singles, Pittsburgh plated two in the top of the fifth, but Louisville responded in the bottom of the inning. Jeff Gardner connected for his second home run of the game, this one a solo shot that traveled well over the right center wall. Cole Sturgeon singled to center and stole second before scoring on an RBI single from Zak Wasserman to give U of L a 10-3 advantage.

Louisville received a solid outing from Jeff Thompson (10-1) on the mound. The junior right-hander went 7 innings, allowing 3 earned runs, while striking out seven.

The Cardinals added a couple insurance runs in the seventh by way of a bases loaded walk and a two out single by Ratajczak.

In the top of the eighth and facing a bases loaded, no out situation, Kyle Funkhouser took the mound for the Cardinals and thwarted a short-lived Panther rally.

The Cardinals pitching staff entered the game leading the nation with 9.7 strikeouts per game. On Friday night, the pitchers totaled 10 strikeouts.

Jeff Gardner led the Cardinals at the plate, going 2-for-4, with two home runs and driving in four. Nick Ratajczak also had a pair of hits and drove in three runs, while Adam Engel finished 2-for-3 with two RBI's.

Louisville has won 15 straight, the second longest run in school history and the current longest stretch in the country.

The two teams will close out the series and regular season on Saturday afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for noon at Jim Patterson Stadium.

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