LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Louisville Bats received a strong pitching performance from Ben Jukich and timely hitting early to complete their improbable division title comeback by knocking off Indianapolis 6-3 on Monday afternoon and win the International League West Division for the third consecutive year.
Trailing by more than nine games in the standings in late July, Louisville needed a win and some help on the final day of the regular season to overtake Columbus for their eighth division title in franchise history. Toledo helped Louisville out by beating the Clippers 5-2 at Fifth Third Field early in the afternoon, leaving the West Division title within the Bats reach.
Louisville drew first blood as Sean Henry's run-scoring single to left allowed Zack Cozart and Danny Dorn to cross the plate for an early 2-0 lead. Cozart reached on a line drive single and Dorn followed with a double off Indians starter Brad Lincoln.
In the second the Bats kept the pressure on again as Dave Sappelt knocked out his first home run with Louisville into the Dean's Milk Home Run Terrace.
The Bats offense continued to click early by loading the bases in the third. After Todd Frazier walked to start the inning, Henry singled and Devin Mesoraco walked. Wilkin Castillo then sent a hot shot off the glove of Indians third baseman Akinori Iwamura that plated Frazier and Henry. The Bats led 5-0 after the third.
Meanwhile, Bats starter Ben Jukich was cruising through the Indians order. Retiring 14 of the first 18 batters he faced, he carried a no-hitter in the sixth.
The Indians finally broke through with a hit when Pedro Ciriaco doubled to left. Two batters later Alex Presley grounded into a force out that got Ciriaco across the plate.
Indianapolis continued their threat in the seventh as Jukich gave up his eighth homer of the season as Jonathan Van Every found the seats in left. Brian Friday walked and was sent home on Kevin Melillo's double to pull the Indians within two.
The Bats responded to the Indians rally, however, in the bottom seventh with a solo homer by Todd Frazier. The key insurance run was all the Bats needed.
Jukich (7-4, 3.90) was spectacular for the Bats on the final day during his 107-pitch outing. He allowed three runs on three hits in 6.2 innings while walking three and striking out four.
Jared Burton earned his fourth save of the season with a clean ninth. He only allowed a leadoff hit and the tying run to reach on an error before the Louisville defense turned a stellar 4-6-3 double play to clinch the division.
Lincoln (7-5, 4.12) struggled early and took the loss. He was replaced on the mound after 2.1 innings pitched by Dana Eveland. In his short time on the mound Lincoln gave up five runs - four earned - on five hits. He struck out five and walked three.
The Governor's Cup Playoffs begin this week as the Bats will host a pair of first round games against the Durham Bulls. Meeting for the fifth time in the postseason, Louisville and Durham will open their best-of-five series with Game One on Wednesday, September 8th at Louisville Slugger Field with the first pitch at 6:05 p.m. Game Two will be on Thursday, September 9th at Louisville Slugger Field at 6:05 p.m. Fans can purchase playoff tickets at www.batsbaseball.com.