Devin Mann homered and drove in three runs for the second straight day and Nick Bennett had seven strikeouts in six quality innings as the No. 24 Louisville baseball team advanced to the title game of the 2018 ACC Championship with Saturday afternoon’s 5-2 semifinal victory against Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals (43-16) will face either No. 4 Clemson or No. 7 Florida State in Sunday’s ACC Championship finale at noon ET on ESPN2. Louisville clinched its first postseason conference championship title game berth since falling to Houston in the 2014 American Conference championship in Clearwater, Florida. The Cardinals last won a postseason conference championship in 2009 when they claimed the Big East title with a win over UConn in Clearwater.
Mann, who has hit safely in all three ACC Championship games this week, was 2-for-3 with a triple, two runs scored and a stolen base to go along with his fifth home run of the season on Saturday. The junior second baseman connected on a RBI triple in the first inning and added a two-run homer in the seventh inning against the Panthers (29-26) after driving in a trio of runs in Friday’s 9-2 triumph over Duke. Mann is 5-for-12 with six RBIs and six runs scored in Louisville’s three games in Durham.
Josh Stowers continued his strong second half to the season as the junior outfielder was 2-for-4 with a double, one RBI and a run scored. Stowers, who has reached base safely in 42 consecutive games, is 6-of-13 at the plate with a home run, triple, two doubles, nine RBIs and five runs scored in three ACC Championship games. In his last 31 games, Stowers has a .422 batting average (46-of-109) with 40 RBIs, 40 runs scored and a .526 on-base percentage.
On the mound, Bennett paced the way as the sophomore allowed just two earned runs on four hits with seven strikeouts in six innings to register the win and move to 8-1 on the season. The seven strikeouts were just one shy of the career high total for Bennett, who has won four of last five starts. Sophomore lefty Adam Elliott worked a perfect seventh inning before graduate righthander Austin Conway twirled two scoreless innings of relief to earn his second save of the season.
The Cardinals opened the scoring in Saturday’s semifinal with a run in the first inning on Mann’s RBI triple. Tyler Fitzgerald coaxed a leadoff walk from Pittsburgh righthander Dan Hammer before Mann drove him home with his three-bagger to right center.
Louisville added to its lead with a pair of runs in the fourth inning. Mann started the inning with a walk from Hammer and then stole second before scoring on a RBI double down the right field line for Stowers. Following a pitching change, Stowers scored the second run of the inning on a fielding error by Pittsburgh shortstop David Yanni on a chopper off the bat of Drew Campbell.
The Panthers cut the margin to 3-2 in the sixth inning on a two-run homer by Ron Washington, Jr. Yanni led off with a single up the middle before Washington sent a 2-1 pitch from Bennett over the right field wall for an opposite-field home run.
Mann ended any hopes of a comeback for the Panthers in the seventh inning when the Columbus, Indiana native launched a 1-0 pitch from Yaya Chentouf over the left field wall for a two-run shot. Umpires initially ruled the ball stayed in the ballpark and Mann cruised into third base with a triple. However, following a video review, the triple was changed to a home run. Justin Lavey also scored on the blast after singling to start the inning.
Saturday’s victory marked the 12th straight win for Louisville against Pittsburgh. Looking ahead to Sunday’s ACC title game, Louisville lost two of three regular season games to both Clemson and Florida State.
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