WKU softball sweeps MTSU, sets new record for fewest games needed to reach 20-win mark

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers outfielder Brylee Hage (11) Green Bay vs WKU February 23, 2020 at WKU Softball Complex

Kaden Gaylord

The WKU softball team (20-4, 3-0 C-USA) opened Conference USA play over the weekend, capping a 14-game home stand with an impressive 3-0 series sweep against archrival Middle Tennessee State (13-13, 0-3 C-USA) at the WKU Softball Complex.

The Hilltoppers led MTSU 39-28 in the all-time series, including a 7-3 advantage across the last 10 meetings. WKU was 9-15 when hosting the Blue Raiders on the Hill, but MTSU struggled mightily during its first trek to Bowling Green since the 2018 campaign.

By sweeping the Blue Raiders, WKU established a new program record for the fewest games to reach 20 wins, only taking 24 contests to reach the 20-win mark after needing 25 games last season. WKU is also on a 10-game winning streak and owns a 12-2 record when playing at home during the 2020 season.

“This was a big weekend for our pitching staff,” head coach Amy Tudor said in a release. “I felt we made adjustments and looked composed in the circle. Our hitters did enough for us to win all three games. I am proud of our fight and focus the entire weekend.”

GAME 1

The Hilltoppers started off C-USA play strong, claiming a hard-fought battle against their rival.

“I felt like we found a way to win and sometimes that’s the case if you aren’t having the long ball or producing a lot of runs and that’s what we went out and did today,” Tudor said in a release.

Senior pitcher Kelsey Aikey stepped into the circle for the start, and she only gave up two hits for the game. Both teams struggled to produce much offense, as both MTSU and WKU were held scoreless for the first five and a half innings.

In the bottom of the fifth, junior first baseman Jordan Thomas stepped to the plate with a runner on third and hit a RBI double, scoring freshman Taylor Sanders for the game’s first run.

The Blue Raiders responded in the top of the sixth, as leadoff hitter Sydney Heath made her way to third base after a WKU error and a sacrifice bunt. Heath then found her way across home plate following an infield hit, tying the game at 1-1.

WKU soon put the game on ice, as freshman center fielder Brylee Hage hit a two-RBI single up the middle, allowing sophomore Kennedy Sullivan and senior Paige Carter to score.

The Hilltopper defense finished the game off with a pair of flyouts and a groundout, claiming the the 3-1 win over the rival Blue Raiders.

Aikey picked up the complete-game win, her seventh of the season, while striking out seven and allowing zero earned runs. The two-hitter was the 12th outing of two-or-fewer hits in her career.

“Once someone starts the hitting, everyone follows — that’s just kind of how we operate,” Thomas said in a release . “Aikey was pitching her butt off and we wanted to get her the win because she deserves it.”

GAME 2

The Hilltoppers came out one day later and doubled their score from the previous outing.

“I was very happy with our mentality today,” Tudor said in a release. “We know that every game is important and I felt the team was dialed in and ready for day two.”

Aikey (10-2) entered the circle again, earning her second win in the circle in as many days by keeping MTSU off the board through the first five innings and six out of seven frames overall.

The Cedar Falls, Iowa, native finished with seven strikeouts in game two. Across her first 13.0 innings of work against the Blue Raiders, Aikey allowed just seven hits and two earned runs.

WKU applied pressure early, loading the bases before ultimately failing to score. The Hilltoppers broke through in the fourth, scoring two runs after Sanders logged an RBI fielder’s choice and Hage scored an unearned run during sophomore Princess Valencia’s pinch-hit at bat.

Hage’s hot streak continued in the fifth, as she hit an RBI triple into left field and extended the Hilltopper lead to 3-0. She finished 3 for 3 and stole two bases on the day.

MTSU responded in the sixth with a two-run homer by senior first baseman Lexi Cushing, bringing the Blue Raider deficit to one run at 3-1, but that would be the only damage MTSU produced for the rest of the game.

WKU shut the door in the bottom of the sixth, scoring three more runs. Thomas tallied an RBI single up the middle, Sullivan logged an RBI sacrifice bunt and then Thomas crossed home plate following an error committed by the Blue Raiders.

Sullivan took over for Aikey in the seventh. She closed the game by collecting a strikeout, a groundout and a flyout, which secured a 6-2 victory and another series win for WKU.

GAME 3

The final contest against the Blue Raiders proved to be the most difficult for WKU, as MTSU took an early 1-0 lead in the second after a throwing error committed by the Hilltoppers.

WKU was kept off the board until the fourth, but the Hilltoppers soon scored the go-ahead run, which would later end up being the game-winning run. 

WKU capitalized off MTSU errors, allowing pinch runner Jordan Ridge and Carter to score. The Hilltoppers used their heady play to build a 2-1 advantage over the Blue Raiders.

Thomas added WKU’s sixth hit — a one-out single in the fifth — to extend her reached-base streak to 20 consecutive games.

MTSU threatened to score in the seventh before Aikey came into the game. Aikey recorded her third save of the season in 1.1 innings of work, locking down her squad’s sixth come-from-behind victory of the year after inheriting a two-on, two-out situation in the senior’s third appearance of the weekend.

“Aikey did a great job in the circle,” Tudor said in a release. “I think our staff’s been strong all year, but her confidence and poise on the mound was a big carrier for us, especially when we weren’t hitting the ball as well as we had been.”

Junior Shelby Nunn (6-1) earned the win in the circle after 5.2 innings, allowing five hits and one walk while striking out two and giving up zero earned runs for the Hilltoppers.

UP NEXT

WKU will be back in action on the road this week, traveling to Arlington, Texas, for a matchup with Texas-Arlington (11-13, 2-1 SBC) and Denton, Texas, for its first C-USA road series against preseason favorite North Texas (18-5, 2-1 C-USA) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

First pitch against UT Arlington is set for 5 p.m. at Allan Saxe Field. The Hilltoppers and Mean Green will get going at 6 p.m., 2 p.m. and noon, respectively, in the Lone Star State.

Reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.