Strong pitching keeps WKU undefeated in C-USA play

Kendall Smith slides into home during game against Florida Atlantic on Sunday, March 31, 2019. WKU won the game with a final score of 10-2.

Sophie Austin

The WKU softball team earned its third-straight sweep of a Conference USA opponent this weekend in a three-game series against Florida Atlantic.

The sweep not only made the Hilltoppers 26-5 overall on the season but also undefeated in conference play at 9-0.

“I think, honestly, at this point, we expect to come in and play every game hard,” senior outfielder Shannon Plese said. “So, to see the work pay off means everything to this team.”

The Hilltoppers swept the double-header on Saturday and carried that momentum into Sunday’s game with exceptional performances both in the circle and at the plate.

The first game of the series ended in a 10-3 win for the Hilltoppers in which junior Kelsey Aikey recorded a career high 11 strikeouts, allowed just three hits and earned her seventh win of the season. Sophomore Shelby Nunn replaced Aikey after five innings to work the final two frames and earn the save, allowing just one hit and no runs.

The second game of Saturday’s doubleheader ended 2-0. It would be the closest game of the series.

Freshman Kennedy Sullivan worked to earn the complete-game shutout, her fourth of the season. She allowed just five hits and three walks to improve to 14-2 on the season and 4-0 in conference play.

A big day at the plate led the Hilltoppers to their third win of the weekend on Sunday.

FAU scored first, earning one run in the top of the first inning. The Hilltoppers responded in the bottom of the first when sophomore catcher Kendall Smith homered to score sophomore outfielder Jordan Thomas and give WKU a 2-1 lead.

“I feel great,” Smith said. “Coming from last year, not such a good offensive year for me, and this year, just seeing the ball better, having more confidence. My teammates are having my back up there, they expect me to get on in a positive way. I just felt great, I saw it, and I hit it.”

Smith’s home run was her seventh of the season.

The Owls evened it up in the top of the second with one run, but a huge third inning at the plate put the Hilltoppers back in the lead after they added five runs, making the score 7-2.

“When Kendall hit that two-run home run, I think it changed our momentum to our side,” head coach Amy Tudor said. “Any time you can hit one off the third story of the parking structure is sending a big message. I thought that was a game changer for us, and then everybody else kind of built off it.”

The fourth and fifth innings saw no runs from either team, but the Hilltoppers broke through in the bottom of the sixth, adding three runs and gaining an eight-run lead to end the game early with a final score of 10-2.

Aikey earned her second win of the weekend after entering the circle to replace Nunn two innings into the game. She recorded five strikeouts and allowed no runs off just two hits.

“I thought when Aikey came into the game, she did a great job in the circle,” Tudor said. “Brought some intensity, picked up where we were just laying down just a little bit. I thought Nunn did a good job as well, we just didn’t make a couple plays behind her.”

In addition to making the team 9-0 in conference play, the series sweep put the Hilltoppers on an 11-game

winning streak.
“I think playing a top-quality opponent in Kentucky, getting a win on the road, I think that that was huge for our confidence going into this series,” Tudor said. “And, you know, a confident team is a scary team.”

The Hilltoppers will be back for more home action this Wednesday when they take on Louisville. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.

Softball reporter Sophie Austin can be reached at 270-745-2653 and [email protected].