Louisville advances to Big East semifinals

Stewart Ijames hit a two-run home run in the top of the 11th inning to break a 7-7 tie and help send Louisville to the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Championship with a 9-7 win against USF Friday night at Bright House Field.

The Cardinals (48-11) advance to face St. John's in a semifinal matchup Saturday at 1 p.m. With St. John's unbeaten in the double-elimination tournament, Louisville, which has one loss, would need to defeat the Red Storm twice to reach Sunday's BIG EAST title game.

It will be Louisville's fourth straight appearance in the BIG EAST tournament semifinals as the Cardinals look for their third straight conference title. USF finishes its season with a 26-32 record.

With Phil Wunderlich on first for Louisville in the top of the 12th, Ijames broke a 7-7 tie when he took the first pitch he saw over the fence in left-center for his 13th home run of the season and second of the BIG EAST Championship.

USF had forced extra innings when second baseman Luis Llerna hit his first career home run off the national leader in saves, Louisville closer Neil Holland. Holland struck out the first two batters and was ahead of Llerna 0-2, but Llerna battled back to a full count before taking the payoff pitch into the bullpen in leftfield to tie the game.

The game was delayed by rain for 56 minutes after the bottom of the fifth inning. Louisville appeared well on its way to a win before the delay, but USF rallied after the stoppage with timely hitting and effective relief pitching.

Louisville was strong out of the gates as the Cardinals got to Bulls starter Jimmy Moran in the first inning after Moran was a last-minute addition to the starting lineup. Phil Wunderlich's RBI double staked the Cardinals to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and Wunderlich added a solo home run to lead off the third inning to make it 4-0. The Cardinals added another run on Cade Stallings' RBI single in the third to hold a five-run lead.

USF got one back in the bottom of the third on Junior Carlin's sacrifice fly, but the Cardinals went ahead 7-1 on Ryan Wright's two-run single to center, which scored Jeff Arnold and Adam Duvall.

After the rain fell, the Bulls turned to reliever Kevin Quackenbush, who effectively limited the Cardinal bats, allowing USF to chip away at the lead. USF scored four in the bottom of the eighth inning, including Sam Mende's two-run home run that just cleared the fence inside the leftfield foul pole to make it 7-6.

That set the stage for Llerna's heroics in the ninth as the Bulls were down to their last strike. But Holland came back to retire USF in order in the 10th and Tyler Mathis nailed down the win in the 11th, getting Llerna swinging to end the game.

Wunderlich went 4-for-6 and was a triple away from a cycle for Louisville, while Wright finished 2-for-6 with three RBIs. Starting pitcher Justin Amlung worked seven strong innings in which he allowed eight his and two runs with five strikeouts in a no-decision. Holland got the win to improve to 8-0, while Mathis registered his first save of the year.

Mende and Llerna both went 4-for-6 for USF to combine for eight of the Bulls' 14 hits. Quackenbush (2-5) took the tough-luck loss despite striking out seven in six innings of relief in which he allowed two runs.

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