Louisville (26-11, 8-8 ACC) scored early and often Friday night, taking a 7-0 lead into the bottom of the 5th inning. It looked like the Cardinals were in cruise control and would be able to rest some of the bullpen for the rest of the weekend. Then the Blue Devils woke up, narrowing the lead to one run after a never ending, home-half of the 5th inning.
The Cards continued to fight, tacking on two more runs as they watched their lead extend back to 9-6 heading into the bottom of the 9th inning. But as we’ve seen this season, the bullpen gave up multiple runs in the final frame, allowing Duke to capture its 7th ACC win in their last 9 tries.
Ryan Hawks (4.2 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 9 K) was dealing through four innings, but the Blue Devils responded with not one, not two, but three home runs in the bottom of the 5th inning to end his day early, forcing Roger Williams to replace him with Tate Kuehner (L, 2-1).
Kuehner (3.2 IP, H, 3 ER, 6 K), like Hawks, was dealing until his final inning, allowing just one hit during his outing, the walk-off grand slam. His final pitch was his 70th of the game, his highest in 2023. Sure, Kuehner is the best option in the bullpen, but he was clearly gassed at that point. He gave everything he had, and the bullpen was quiet.
All three runners on base for the grand slam reached via an error or walk. Andrew Yu pinch hit for Duke in the 9th, lacing a single to LF, originally scoring the runner from second. After an umpire meeting, the runner that scored was called back to third base and Yu was credited with a walk, which loaded the bases. Not sure what the ruling was, but he was not credited with a base hit.
If you listened to the 3rd and Central Podcast, I talked about how gritty Duke Head Coach Chris Pollard’s teams play. They battle until the final out, which we saw on full display Friday night. This is a deflating loss, but in baseball, you must have a short memory, or this loss could continue the snowball that is gaining speed.
The bright spot of the evening was Ryan McCoy (3-5, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R), who turned in his best game in a Louisville uniform. After slumping lately and losing at bats to Will Cook, McCoy put the team on his back and kept the Cards in the game.
Here is his blast in the top of the first inning:
T1 | BANG‼️ Four batters, three runs. @Rymccoy7 has left the yard‼️— Louisville Baseball (@LouisvilleBSB) April 21, 2023
Followed by his solo-shot in the 5th:
T5 | He's done it AGAIN‼️ Have a night, @Rymccoy7‼️— Louisville Baseball (@LouisvilleBSB) April 21, 2023
JT Benson (3-5, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) turned in another solid performance for the short-handed Cardinals. This ball was obliterated.
T7 | Take your time and admire this one, @jtbensonn‼️— Louisville Baseball (@LouisvilleBSB) April 22, 2023
Three starters, Jack Payton, Christian Knapczyk, and Gavin Kilen all missed the second game in a row after sitting out on Tuesday night in Bloomington. Their status is still uncertain, but this is a critical part of the schedule, as Louisville has now lost 4 of their last 5 games.
The second game of the weekend is scheduled for 7:00 PM Saturday evening on the ACC Network. Riley Phillips (4-1, 4.05 ERA) will face Alex Gow (3-2, 4.50 ERA) as the Cards attempt to even the series.