Hilltoppers get series win with comeback victory

Sophomore pitcher Haylee Towers prepares to make a pitch during the Spring Fling tournament at the softball complex on March 2. Towers has played a wide variety of positions in her short time so far on the team. The Lady Toppers lost the game against Austin Peay 5-0.

Casey McCarthy

The WKU softball team clawed its way back to win on Sunday against Texas-El Paso to secure a second straight Conference USA series win.

On a cold weekend that saw the Hilltoppers and Miners trading runs and leads, WKU (23-14, 7-5 C-USA) pushed its way up what’s currently a crowded conference standings.

“Anytime we can get a conference series win it’s huge for us,” head coach Amy Tudor said in a press release. “When our backs were against the wall today I thought we really stepped up and performed well both offensively and in the circle. The crowd played a huge role in this victory for us today. I’ve never heard this place get that loud and we certainly appreciate everyone coming out and being as vocal as they were.”

The Hilltoppers continue to lead C-USA in doubles, triples, RBIs and on-base percentage. WKU pushed its home run total to 28 on the year, with bombs from freshman Jordan Thomas and sophomore Paige Carter in the weekend series. Carter, whose homer on Sunday helped WKU retake the lead, is also second in C-USA in RBIs with 33 on the season.

Carter said she never doubted the team could come back to win Sunday’s game.

“I had faith in our team putting up runs,” Carter said. “We put up 14 runs yesterday, so I didn’t really think it was an issue.”

The Hilltoppers took the first game of the weekend 10-8 after only a combined two runs through the first three innings. With UTEP taking a 2-1 advantage in the top of the fourth inning, WKU responded with six runs in the bottom of the inning. The Hilltoppers added three more in the fifth inning.

Thomas had a career-high four RBIs in the game, including a two-run homer in the fifth, her third home run of the year. Sophomore Kelsey Aikey (9-4) picked up the win, tossing the opening 4.1 innings with three strikeouts and six runs allowed. Freshman Shelby Nunn picked up her third save of the season, the first WKU pitcher to do so since 2008, coming in for the final 2.2 innings.

After going scoreless through four innings in game two, the Hilltoppers managed to take a 4-0 lead into the sixth. UTEP responded with a huge six-run seventh inning to take the advantage late. The Hilltoppers were unable to respond in the bottom of the inning, dropping the second game of the doubleheader Saturday, 6-4.  

Starting her second game of the day, Aikey pitched a one-hit shutout through six innings before the Miners struck three runs. Nunn (13-9) picked up the loss, surrendering three runs in relief.  

In Sunday’s series rubber match, the Hilltoppers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The Miners responded with a pair of runs in the top of the third before adding four additional runs in the fourth to go up 6-2. WKU responded with five runs in the fifth inning, including a two-RBI single from junior Jordan Vorbrink and a three-run shot over center field by Carter to retake the lead 7-6.  

WKU held onto the lead through the final two innings behind a two-hit effort from Aikey in the final 3.1 innings. Aikey secured the win in the game, with Nunn getting the start, surrendering six runs on eight hits through 3.2 innings.

Next up for the Hilltoppers is a weekday doubleheader at home against Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday. WKU’s next conference action will be Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama, against UAB. Going into the final month of the regular season, one thing Tudor said she’d like to see her team work on is maturity.

“We are still young,” Tudor said. “Cutting down on mental mistakes I think is huge. And continuing to focus on hitting, obviously in the circle.  We want to see how much life we have left at the end of the season.”

Reporter Casey McCarthy can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]