Over this past weekend, Xavier Baseball struck again when it beat the No. 12 Louisville Cardinals. After traveling to South Carolina in back-to-back weeks, the Muskies held their first non-conference series of the season in nearby Kentucky. Similar to last season's defeat of No. 12 North Carolina, Saturday's victory was just a glimpse of the potential this year's team has.
Saturday (Game One) – Xavier 2, Louisville 1
After cold weather on Friday, the first game of the three-game stand was pushed to Saturday morning as part of a doubleheader. Unlike the Kentucky air, sophomore lefty Brad Kirschner continued to be scorching. After a terrific outing last week, Kirschner had a similar performance and threw six innings of shutout baseball, allowing the Muskies to secure a much-needed win over a nearby, big time program. Not only did the win energize the bunch, but it also halted the Cardinals' five-game winning streak.
Before giving the ball to freshman lefty Zac Lowther in the seventh inning, Kirschner remained composed throughout the outing by striking out three batters and scattering the five hits he gave up. Lowther helped Xavier hold on against Louisville, going two full innings and allowing only one run.
During Xavier's turn to bat in the seventh, freshman third baseman Rylan Bannon reached after a single to left field. After moving over to third base (thanks to help from junior catcher Daniel Rizzie), Bannon was driven in by senior designated hitter Derek Hasenbeck. Another RBI from left fielder Patrick Jones gave XU a 2-0 lead at the end of the frame.
In the eighth inning, the Cardinals struck and got a run back. However, their rally was cut short by the efforts of Zac Lowther, who worked out of a jam and got two important outs, leaving several baserunners stranded. By the time coach Scott Googins called upon Jacob Bodner, who came in to earn his second save of the young season, the Muskies' pitching staff had held the Cardinals at bay. Thanks to some great defensive plays by junior catcher Daniel Rizzie in the ninth (who gunned down two baserunners attempting to steal), the Cardinals were unable to capitalize despite reaching base quickly in the ninth.
Not only did the Muskies win a big game, but they also defeated Louisville righty Kyle Funkhouser. He came into the series with one of the best strikeout rates in the nation and several preseason First Team All-American nods.
Saturday (Game Two) – Louisville 6, Xavier 3
Despite a strong showing from the Muskies in the morning, Louisville came back strong in the second half of the oubleheader. However, their comeback really didn't happen until the eighth inning. In fact, XU was able to keep up the momentum for almost every inning on Saturday.
The game started strong when the Musketeers scored a first inning run due to a RBI double from Derek Hasenbeck. One inning later, Louisville senior Zach Lucas smashed a pitch from senior righty Adam Hall over the left field fence to even the score 1-1. In the third inning, both squads traded runs. Xavier junior second basemen David Morton came home after a Louisville fielding error while Cardinals senior Sutton Whiting scored from a RBI double by freshman Brendan McKay. Headed into the fourth, it was a 2-2 game.
In the sixth inning, shortstop Andre Jernigan scored after a wild pitch by Anthony Kidston and gave Xavier a one-run lead late. For two more innings, XU was able to keep the lead. Unfortunately for the Muskies, the dam broke open in the eighth inning and Louisville scored four runs. Sophomore reliever Greg Jacknewitz took over in the fifth inning and pitched fairly well until he ran into some control issues. After loading the bases from three consecutive walks, Jacknewitz was in a tough position. On a 1-0 pitch, Louisville freshman Devin Hairston hit a three-run double to the left field line and gave the Cardinals a 5-3 lead. After an infield single, Hairston himself came home for the final run of the game. After XU was unable to scratch back at the top of the ninth, the Cardinals had evened the series at 1-1 with a 6-3 victory over the Musketeers.
Sunday – Louisville 2, Xavier 0
One recent development for this season of Musketeers Baseball is the squad's pitching prowess. On Sunday, in the rubber match against Louisville, sophomore lefty Trent Astle pitched another gem on behalf of the X-Men. In six innings, Astle performed nicely – allowing only three hits and one run, along with a career-high six strikeouts. On the flip side, Louisville's Josh Rogers also pitched well early, striking out nine Muskies and holding Xavier scoreless through six innings.
Louisville's offensive output came in the fourth and eighth innings. In the fourth, a two-out RBI single from freshman Devin Hairston scored senior Zach Lucas. During the eighth inning, another Louisville freshman, Brendan McKay, drove in another senior, Sutton Whiting. Collectively, these freshman-to-senior connections provided the Cardinals with the only offense they'd need to best the Musketeers.
Xavier did have a few opportunities in the game, but was never able to capitalize. The ninth inning did provide some hope, however. After a two-out single by Andre Jernigan and a walk from graduate student Brian Bruening, a double steal put runners on second and third. However, freshman Rylan Bannon went down swinging and Louisville took the series.
Even though the Muskies had another rough outing, there were plenty of hopeful moments for XU baseball. First, they were able to beat #12 Louisville after an excellent pitching performance. Additionally, they were able to defeat one of the best pitchers in the nation. Despite falling in the last two games of the series, XU remained competitive the entire time. With a few different bounces of the ball, the Muskies could've very easily swept a very good Cardinals club. Instead, they'll head into Tuesday night's Crosstown Pitchout with the hopes of improving on their 4-6 record.