Hilltoppers survive first loss to get series win

Freshman Kennedy Sullivan throws a pitch during WKU’s win 5 to 3 over WIU in Bowling Green on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019.

Sophie Austin

The WKU softball team picked up two wins this weekend in its first home series of the 2019 season. The Hilltoppers faced Western Illinois in a three-game series, playing two games on Saturday and one on Sunday.

Saturday’s first game ended in a 5-3 victory for the Hilltoppers. Though WIU came up with a quick run in the first inning to take the lead early, WKU struck back in the third inning with runs from sophomore outfielder Jordan Thomas and freshman outfielder Taylor Davis off a hit from Plese to take the lead.

The Hilltoppers added three more to the board in the fifth and sixth innings off a home run by Thomas, her third of the season. Sophomore catcher Kendall Smith and senior infielder Rebekah Engelhardt scored runs in the sixth inning after earning the team’s first two triples of the season.

However, WIU evened the series in the second game of the weekend, which ended in a 3-1 victory for the Leathernecks. WIU scored first in the fourth inning and never trailed, allowing just one run off seven hits from the Hilltoppers.

After the loss, head Coach Amy Tudor said she thought the team would need to approach Sunday’s game with a different mentality, being focused and ready with every pitch. Senior center fielder Shannon Plese said she felt the team did just that. 

“A big thing we took in today was focus, really coming here to play ball,” Plese said. “I think having a presence is necessary for any winning team, and I think we definitely had that today.”

Junior Kelsey Aikey started in the circle, playing five innings, striking out three batters and allowing three hits. Senior Shelby Nunn took over in the top of the sixth, striking out three of the seven batters she faced and allowing only one hit.

The Hilltoppers concluded the series with a 7-6 victory over the Leathernecks. WKU took the lead with a big second inning, adding five runs from senior outfielder Jordan Vorbrink, junior infielder Morgan McElroy, freshman pitcher and outfielder Kennedy Sullivan, sophomore first baseman Maddie Bowlds and Davis.

WIU reduced the Hilltoppers’ lead after striking back with three runs in the third inning and even tied it up in the fourth, but the Leatherbacks never took the lead.

Aikey came in to close the game at the sixth inning, replacing Sullivan in the circle. Aikey played a key role in securing the win for the Hilltoppers, coming in with the bases loaded and no outs, but she only allowed one run to hold WKU’s lead.

“Freshman year my role was being a closer, so that’s just bringing me back into my element,” Aikey said after Sunday’s game. “Sophomore year I started starting games more, but since I’ve thrown hard since I was young, closing is just really what I like to do—it just gets me going.”

Aikey also picked up her seventh career save on Sunday, which ties the program record.

“It’s actually awesome to hear,” Aikey said. “But like I said, freshman year, that was my thing to come in and close games, so that’s just awesome that I did that.”

Tudor was pleased with the way her team fought back through adversity this weekend but said she still sees things to improve on for next weekend’s games. 

“I think we have to get better at all things with the game. We would hit the ball, and then we wouldn’t score runs,” Tudor said. “Timely hitting is something we have to start working on, and then, obviously, I think we can still pitch a little bit better.”

The Hilltopper Classic will take place this weekend at the WKU Softball Complex with Butler, Cleveland State and Indiana State visiting. WKU is scheduled to take on Butler in its first game of the tournament on Friday at 3 p.m.

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