INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN KILPATRICK
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Centerfielder Jimmy Brennan went 3-for-5, while shortstop Joe Panik had two hits, drove in two runs and stole two bases as St. John's returned to the BIG EAST Championship final for the second consecutive year with a 5-1 win against Louisville Saturday evening at Bright House Field.
St. John's (35-19) will bid for a record seventh BIG EAST title - and their second consecutive crown - Sunday at noon, when the Red Storm meet Seton Hall on ESPNU. St. John's and Seton Hall have met just once previously in the BIG EAST final, when the Red Storm took a 7-6 win in 11 innings in 1985 - the first year of the BIG EAST Championship.
The Red Storm trailed 1-0 before they registered an out in the first inning, but used four hits and aggressive baserunning from the top of the order to put three runs on the board in the third inning. St. John's added single runs in the sixth and eighth innings and two Red Storm pitchers yielded just the one run.
Kevin Kilpatrick worked 5.1 innings and allowed five hits and one run with three strikeouts to get the win, improving to 4-3. Stephen Rivera closed it with 3.2 innings of shutout relief with three Ks for his fourth save of the year.
Louisville's lone run came from its first batter as Adam Engel led off with the first of three straight base hits in the bottom of the first. Engel came home on Ryan Wright's single to left, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead and bettering Wright's career BIG EAST Championship RBI record (24).
Catcher Frankie Schwindel had the first of four straight hits for St. John's to start the top of the third - a string that was capped on Panik's two-run single to right-center, which left runners on first and third. The Red Storm lost a run when the Cardinals successfully defended a double-steal, getting Pat Talbut at the plate. An intentional walk to Jeremy Baltz moved Panik to second, and after Panik stole third, the Red Storm again had runners at the corners. St. John's made a second attempt at a double steal and Panik scored when the throw from shortstop sailed high, making it 3-1.
St. John's made it 4-1 in the top of the sixth on Rowan Wick's base hit to right, scoring Baltz, who led off with a walk. The Red Storm added a fifth run with two outs in the eighth when Karmas drove in Kyle Richardson from second on a base hit to center.
Louisville's best chance to cut into the lead came in the bottom of the sixth, when Jeff Gardner and Wright led off with base hits. But Kilpatrick got Stewart Ijames to fly out to center before Rivera retired the next two hitters on a strikeout and a fly-out to get out of the jam.
Gardner and Wright both went 2-for-4 for Louisville, which fell to 32-29. Gabriel Shaw (0-3) took the loss for the Cardinals after allowing three runs and five hits with six strikeouts in four innings.