Hilltoppers record sweep to remain perfect in C-USA play

WKU senior shortstop Rebekah Engelhardt prepares to throw to first after catching an infield grounder from Charlotte at the WKU Softball Complex March 23, in Bowling Green. Behind Engelhardt, junior third base Morgan McElroy yells the whereabouts of the baserunner advancing from second to third. Engelhardt cranked in 2 runs and 3 RBIs going 2-3 at the dish in the WKU 11-2 victory.

Sophie Austin

For only the second time in program history, the WKU softball team has opened conference play with two series sweeps. The Hilltoppers picked up three wins against Charlotte this weekend to make their conference record 6-0.

“I think we have all three parts of the game,” head coach Amy Tudor said. “In the circle, we’re very strong, and our offense has produced a lot of runs this weekend. We actually lead Conference USA in stolen bases and also our opponent batting average, so if our pitching is good and our base running and our hitting is good, our chances of winning go way up.”

A strong start led WKU to its first win on Saturday. Freshman Kennedy Sullivan struck out all three batters in the bottom of the first inning.

The Hilltoppers then moved to the dugout, where they put six runs on the board even after two quick outs.

More runs in the second, third and fourth innings added to the Hilltoppers’ lead to give them a 11-2 win. WKU never trailed and never held less than a six-run lead after the first inning.

Two of those 11 runs were homers from sophomore Kendall Smith and senior Rebekah Engelhardt. Each recorded their sixth home run of the season.

Sullivan earned the win in the circle, making her 13-2 on the season. She allowed just two runs and threw five strikeouts over the four innings she pitched.

Junior Kelsey Aikey pitched the final frame of the game and earned the last out of the game with a strikeout.

Senior Jordan Vorbrink homered in the bottom of the second to open the scoring in WKU’s second game on Saturday. Smith, Engelhardt, Sullivan and freshman Taylor Davis scored the other four runs of the game, which ended in a 5-0 victory for WKU.

Senior Shannon Plese doubled in the bottom of the third but was thrown out trying to steal third. She had at least one base hit in each game this weekend, moving her hitting streak to 20 games.

Aikey earned the win in the circle with seven strikeouts and only two hits over the five innings she worked. The win moved her to 5-3 on the season.

Aikey was replaced by sophomore Shelby Nunn, who struck out three and allowed just one hit and one walk in the final two frames.

Vorbrink and sophomore Maddie Bowlds each had multi-hit games, Vorbrink’s fifth of the season and Bowlds’ third. Sullivan also earned two RBIs for her fourth multi-RBI game of the season.
The final game on Sunday consisted of a hard-fought performance from Charlotte, but WKU still came out with a 3-0 win.

Sullivan opened the scoring in the bottom of the second on Sunday with her first career home run. She also went 2 for 3 at the plate.

“I thought she was very patient, and she picked her pitch and put a good swing on it,” Tudor said of Sullivan. “She does a good job at the plate as well as in the circle, so she’s a triple threat.”

Jordan Thomas and Morgan McElroy also each added a run in the second and fifth innings to add to the Hilltoppers’ lead.

Nunn and Aikey combined to earn the shutout in the circle, with Nunn pitching the first five innings and earning the win. Nunn allowed just four hits, no runs and threw four strikeouts before being replaced by Aikey.

Aikey replaced Nunn for the final two innings to earn the save in the circle. The save was her fifth of the season, best in C-USA.

“Nunn was great. Aikey was great,” Tudor said. “I think it’s Aikey’s best relief performance I’ve seen thus far.”

The junior struck out five of the six batters she faced and allowed no hits or runs.

“I just like coming in and closing it down for my teammates,” Aikey said. “We’ve really been working on communication, so the better we talk, it just gets me going even more.”

The team had not swept a C-USA opponent since 2017 until the series sweep against Florida International last weekend, but it has now earned two conference sweeps in a row.

In addition to being undefeated in conference play, the team is also 22-5 on the season.

The Hilltoppers will be back in action on Tuesday when they travel to Lexington to take on Kentucky. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.

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