WKU has mixed results in Spring Fling

Freshman catcher Kendall Smith catches a pitch during the Mar 2 game against Austin Peay. Smith is a three-time All-State selection.

Casey McCarthy

The Hilltoppers’ bats cooled off at times this weekend, but WKU still finished the Spring Fling Tournament 3-2 with a big performance from sophomore pitcher Kelsey Aikey.

Aikey pitched her second complete game shutout on the year to cap off the weekend Sunday afternoon in a 1-0 walk-off win against University of Dayton. The Lady Toppers moved to 14-6 on the year.

Aikey carried a no-hit bid into the top of the fifth inning Sunday before Dayton managed an infield single, the sole hit allowed in the game. Aikey now has a no-hitter and a one-hitter in the first month of the 2018 season. Head coach Amy Tudor said Aikey has made strides to get more innings in the circle.

“Aikey knows when she misses, and I think becoming a smarter pitcher is what’s been helping her,” Tudor said. “She likes throwing hard, but her off-speed was working for her today and that’s something we’ve been focusing on for the last year now.”

Aikey, who typically pitches in more of a relief role, said she was excited to get the start.

“When I start, I just think about getting three outs right away,” Aikey said. “Most of my innings come in relief but I was definitely excited to get the start today, and I couldn’t have done this without the defense behind me.”

Aikey wasn’t the only WKU pitcher to throw a shutout on the weekend, as freshman Shelby Nunn picked up her second of the season in a 1-0 victory against Dayton Friday. Nunn, a Bowling Green native, is now 8-3 in her freshman season.

WKU dropped its opening game on the weekend, losing to Austin Peay 5-0, only the second game this season in which WKU has been held scoreless. Freshman Maddie Bowlds registered three of the team’s six hits, going 3 for 4 in her fifth multi-hit performance on the year.

Towers pitched the first 5.0 innings, with three strikeouts and four runs allowed. Aikey pitched the final 2.0 innings, striking out two and allowing one run.

In the second game, WKU got a 1-0 victory over Dayton thanks in large part to the team’s defense behind Nunn’s performance inside the circle. Freshman Jordan Thomas hit WKU’s eighth triple of the year in the bottom of the third inning to bring junior Jordan Vorbrink home for the decisive run.   

Nunn allowed just four hits in the contest and tallied three strikeouts. She has gone the distance in seven of her eight starts in her freshman campaign so far.

The Lady Toppers’ bats looked like they might be heating up for the weekend in the team’s first matchup Saturday, a 3-1 victory over Evansville. WKU notched two runs in the first inning on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Bowlds that ended with Bowlds coming all the way around to score after a series a fielding errors. Freshman Tommi Stowers added the final run in the second off a double from Vorbrink.  

Nunn pitched the first 5.0 innings, giving up one run on four hits and striking out five. Aikey came in for relief, pitching the final 2.0 frames and allowing one hit while recording two strikeouts.

WKU fell in the second matchup Saturday, 6-1, against Austin Peay. The Lady Toppers gave up nine hits in the game, falling behind 3-0 in the second inning. They never found their way back.

Nunn drew her third straight start on the weekend, pitching the first 3.0 innings, with three runs allowed and four strikeouts. Aikey pitched 2.0 innings in relief, striking out three on two earned runs before redshirt freshman Cassidy Blackford came in to pitch the final inning in her second appearance on the year.

In WKU’s final game of the weekend, a 1-0 walk-off decision against Dayton, Morgan McElroy had two of the team’s three hits, including the walk-off to help earn the victory. McElroy, who didn’t play Saturday due to illness, used her time out to her advantage, Tudor said.

“She was in the dugout with the flu but she was watching, paying attention to details,” Tudor said. “She’s a smart player, and that really worked out to her advantage today. That was a big moment for her.”

In the bottom of the seventh, freshman Kendall Smith found her way on base by means of a double, before sophomore Rebekah Engelhardt advanced Smith to third on a mishandled hit down the left side. With Smith on third, McElroy popped her second hit of the day over the first baseman to bring in the winning run.  

With early season tournament play wrapped up, the Hilltoppers will host Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at 5 p.m. Wednesday. It’s the first of six midweek non-conference games coming up. WKU opens Conference USA play with a stint in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, this weekend against University of Southern Mississippi.

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