Louisville used solid starting pitching performances and timely hitting to sweep Friday’s doubleheader against Notre Dame and clinch the series. While the opener was a back and forth nail biter that offered many thrills, it was MLB draft prospect Nick Solak who stole the show in dramatic fashion with a walk-off 11th inning home run.
Friday’s first game wasn’t exactly a pretty win for the Cardinals, the 5th ranked team in the nation. Before Solak’s late game heroics, the Cardinals had managed just 2 runs despite having 14 hits. Twice the Cardinals opened an inning by getting runners to first and second with no outs and proceeded to bunt the ball back to the pitcher who in turn, forced out the lead runner at third base. Those moves squandered some potentially big innings.
The Irish missed some early opportunities as well. Louisville senior Kyle Funkhouser, struggled out of the gate, walking Cavan Biggio to lead off the game and allowing him to get to third base thanks to two wild pitches. Biggio then tried to score on a grounder to third base, but was gunned out thanks to a heads up play by Louisville third baseman Blake Tiberi. Funkhouser then allowed a single to Zak Kutsulis (more on him later) but the Cardinals escaped unscathed after Funkhouser caught Kutsulis leaning.
Funkhouser settled into a grove after the first and had the most efficient start that I’ve seen from him in quite some time. Needing just 96 pitches to get through 8 frames, Funkhouser allowed 3 hits, 1 run, and 2 walks while striking out 2. He worked at 91-93 mph for the first half of the game before dipping slightly to 89-91 in the 8th inning. He had a good feel for his changeup in the 80-81 mph range and felt comfortable throwing it in any count. This bit him once when he shook off catcher Will Smith a handful of times before leaving a changeup up in the zone to Kutsulis who deposited it over the right center field fence.
Kutsulis would later triple and double off relievers to complete the cycle, the first for a Notre Dame player in 16 years.
Typically hitting for the cycle will result earn you a headline, but that honor goes to Solak who finished the first game going 3-6, with 2 runs, 2 RBI and made a couple of of impressive plays to his right showing good range and arm strength for the position.
Zack Burdi earned the win on the mound, treating scouts by striking out both hitters he faced in the top of the 11th, while bumping his fastball at 98-99 mph and flashing a slider with good tilt at 87-88 mph.
The second game wasn’t quite as exciting as the first. The Cardinals jumped on the Irish early and hung a 6 spot in the first. Pitcher/cleanup hitter Brendan McKay helped himself by doubling in a pair of runs then proceeded to strike out a career high 13 over 6.2 innings as the Cardinals cruised to a 8-2 win. McKay did walk 5 in the contest but otherwise made it look easy. With an effortless and repeatable delivery, McKay sat 90-91 mph all day with his fastball with a sharp 81-82 mph breaking ball that kept the Irish off balance.
The two teams will play the series finale at 1:00 pm this afternoon at Jim Patterson Stadium.