WKU softball claims Spring Fling tournament crown by sweeping field, moves to 16-4 record in 2020

Players shake hands after WKU’s comeback victory over Austin Peay. WKU defeated Austin Peay 8-4.

Kaden Gaylord

The WKU softball team (16-4) hosted its second consecutive tournament at the WKU Softball Complex over the weekend, continuing its current 14-game home stand with a perfect 5-0 showing against the other three teams in the WKU Hilltopper Spring Fling tournament field.

The Hilltoppers defeated IUPUI (3-12) twice, Illinois State (9-9) twice and Austin Peay (6-10) once to claim the WKU Hilltopper Spring Fling championship. WKU is now on a six-game winning streak and owns an 8-2 record when playing at home during the 2020 season.

“I thought we had great plate approaches,” head coach Amy Tudor said. “I felt like we gave ourselves a chance to win every single time we stepped up to the plate. We were very confident up there and our circle and defense were both strong to back that.”

FRIDAY

The Hilltoppers started the weekend off on a high note, shutting out IUPUI after a dominant performance from their pitching staff.

WKU took control early, scoring the first run of the game in the first inning off a sacrifice fly out from junior catcher Kendall Smith. The Jaguars applied some pressure early, putting runners in scoring position twice but ultimately failing to capitalize.

The Hilltoppers put the game out of reach in the fourth inning, scoring four runs after Smith slapped a two-run shot and senior designated hitter Paige Carter added a solo shot.

Smith ended up with four RBIs for the game, and WKU would soon tack two more runs onto its already substantial advantage.

Junior pitcher Shelby Nunn tossed her first complete game shutout of the season, giving up five hits and one walk with five strikeouts en route to a 7-0 win for the Hilltoppers.

In its second game, WKU took on APSU in a contest that featured back-and-forth action.

The Hilltoppers scored the first run in the second inning, but a two-RBI triple in the third gave the lead to the Governors. APSU also scored one more in the frame, opening a 3-1 lead.

Sophomore pitcher and outfielder Kennedy Sullivan responded with a two-run homer for WKU, knotting the game at 3-3. The Governors scored again in the next inning to regain the lead.

Senior pitcher Kelsey Aikey started for WKU, but Tudor’s decision to put Sullivan in the circle after 2.2 innings ultimately changed the momentum of the game for the Hilltoppers.

Sullivan had six strikeouts in her first 2.1 innings of work, finishing the game with three hits, one earned run and 10 strikeouts in 4.1 innings of relief.

WKU seized full control in the fifth, scoring four runs. Carter highlighted the scoring run, stepping up to the plate and sending a pitch over the wall for a three-run homer.

The Hilltoppers added one more run in the sixth inning, claiming an 8-4 win that snapped a three-game skid in the all-time series against APSU.

Sophomore outfielder Taylor Davis delivered a perfect 8 for 8 day at the plate, tallying eight of WKU’s 21 hits on the day.

“Our offense and defense were spot on today,” Tudor said on Friday. “We made adjustments at the plate throughout both games which proved to increase our run production.”

SATURDAY

The Hilltoppers opened Saturday against ISU, the only other undefeated team left in the tournament field after Friday, and errors played a huge role in the game’s outcome. 

WKU struck first, as Smith scored after a throwing error from the ISU catcher to third base. The Redbirds responded with a two-run homer in the fourth to claim a 2-1 advantage.

Sullivan sent a pitch to left field for a two-RBI double and Smith followed suit with a two-run homer, giving WKU four runs in the fifth and all the scoring it needed for a 5-2 triumph.

Aikey pitched all seven innings, giving up seven hits and two earned runs with 12 strikeouts and helping WKU claim the No. 1 seed for the elimination games later in the day.

WKU would go on to play fourth-seeded IUPUI in its second game of the day, and the Hilltoppers dominated the contest to secure their first walk-off win of 2020.

Junior Jordan Thomas started the game off with a solo home run, her second of the season, and the runs kept pouring in from there.

An RBI single from freshman outfielder Brylee Hage brought in Sullivan, and then a three-run homer from freshman third baseman Taylor Sanders increased the WKU lead to 5-0.

The Jaguars tried to mount a comeback by scoring a combined three runs in the second and third frames, but WKU quickly put those hopes to bed after Sanders and Thomas both hit homers again in the third, extending the Hilltopper lead back to 8-3.

IUPUI scored one more run in the fourth, but it was all over after WKU scored four runs and secured a 12-4 mercy rule win due to being ahead by eight runs after five innings.

“Our ability to keep hitters off balance along with solid defense was key to our success today,” Tudor said following WKU’s second game of the day.

SUNDAY

WKU closed the weekend with a rematch against ISU in the championship contest, and the Hilltoppers wasted no time in their quest for the tournament crown.

The Hilltoppers exploded for an 11-run fourth inning, highlighted by Sullivan’s second grand slam of the season. WKU led 12-1 after five innings, securing a run-rule win for its second consecutive game to close the tournament.

Aikey (8-2) delivered her sixth complete-game victory of the season and moved into fifth place on WKU’s career strikeouts list. Aikey is No. 5 with 446, and she’s just 43 punchouts away from tying for No. 4.

“It’s a huge honor to be on that career list,” Aikey said. “I take a lot of pride in my strikeouts and keeping my walks down and it means a lot to earn a spot on our list.”

Aikey earned her second win in as many days over ISU on Sunday, amassing 10 strikeouts to bring her 2020 total to an even 100.

“I think the growth for Kelsey began her freshman year and has continued through her senior season,” Tudor said. “Every year she gets a little better and obviously she’s peaking at the right time. Aikey works hard. She’s a bulldog on the mound and has a lot of drive. She’s just fun to watch.”

UP NEXT

WKU will be back in action at the WKU Softball Complex this week, continuing a long stretch that includes four more home games before its next road swing.

The Hilltoppers will host Belmont on Wednesday at 6 p.m. before opening Conference USA play with a three-game set against Middle Tennessee State on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

WKU faces the Blue Raiders at 6 p.m., 2 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively, across the weekend.

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