Lady Toppers off to hot start at Chattanooga Challenge, scores 10 runs opening season

Kelsey Aikey pitching against Illinois State on February 29, 2020 at the WKU Softball Complex.

Jake Moore

WKU (2-0) took to the diamond for the first time this spring on Friday as the Lady Toppers defeated Kennesaw State 2-1 and demolished host Chattanooga 8-0 at the Chattanooga Challenge behind redshirt senior Kelsey Aikey’s complete game and redshirt freshman Taylor Sander’s two-homer performance.

“I thought we came out with a lot of energy and played with a lot of effort in both games today,” head coach Amy Tudor said in a release. “We manufactured enough runs to get two wins today and played solid defense.”

Game 1: Kennesaw State 

The Owls (1-4) came into their matchup against the Hilltoppers on a three-game losing streak following a series with Virginia Tech. WKU trotted out their star pitcher Kelsey Aikey to open the season, a tough opponent for any offense to face.

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The game would prove to be a low-scoring affair with both teams combining for just three runs. Aikey pitched a complete game and looked to be in control almost all of the way, only allowing one run which came on a solo homer from Kennesaw State junior Taylor Cates in the top of the fourth inning. 

Aikey would finish out the complete game with a solid line of four hits, two walks, one earned run and seven strikeouts. The standout offensive performance of the Hilltoppers’ first game came from WKU redshirt senior Paige Carter, who smacked two doubles in back-to-back plate appearances. 

WKU would scoop up both of its runs in the second inning on a single from redshirt sophomore Taylor Davis that batted in redshirt freshmen Taylor Sanders and Brylee Hage. From then on the game became a pitcher’s duel, with Aikey and Kennesaw State’s starter Melanie Bennett combining for 15 strikeouts while both offenses remained scoreless.

The Lady Toppers walked away from the first game winning 2-1. 

“Our staff threw well today; throwing a lot of strikes and eliminating walks,” Tudor said. “I felt that all three pitchers that threw had great command of their pitches. I was proud of our entire team’s efforts today.”

Game 2: Chattanooga

The Mocs (0-2) kept up with WKU throughout the first three innings and the game was starting to look like another pitcher’s duel. That all changed when the Hilltoppers exploded for a five-run fourth inning set off by a three-run homer from redshirt freshman Taylor Sanders.

Redshirt junior Jordan Thomas then singled with two runners on base to tack on another pair of runs. Kendall Smith scored from third on an error in the fifth to make it a 6-0 ballgame.

Sander’s wasn’t done, however, and hit another home run in the seventh to put WKU up 8-0. This was the second two-homer game of her collegiate career.

Redshirt junior Shelby Nunn threw five scoreless innings, surrendering three hits while striking out three batters and walking no one. 

Redshirt freshman Katie Gardner took over for Nunn in the sixth, walked the first batter she saw and then promptly struck out the side. The two would end up compiling a combined shut-out. Gardner is a perfect example of the pitching depth the Hilltoppers are glad to have this season.

WKU completed the day winning 8-0 over the Mocs and outscored the opposition 10-1 in Friday’s opening games. 

Up Next: 

WKU will be back in Frost Stadium Saturday at 9 a.m. to face off against Indiana State. It’ll be the first of four matchups against the Sycamores to begin the spring. 

The Hilltoppers will cap off Saturday with their second game against Kennesaw State at 11:30 a.m., and on Sunday WKU will wrap up its first road trip with a second matchup with Indiana State at 10 a.m. 

Softball beat reporter Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.