Lady Toppers get strong offensive performance in opening weekend

WKU infielder Brittany Vaughn (5) collides with University of Alabama-Birmingham catcher Olivia Black (44) during the Lady Toppers’ 7-3 win on April 1, 2017 at the WKU Softball Complex.

Casey McCarthy

The WKU softball team finished off an impressive weekend at the Gardner-Webb University Tournament, with a pair of offensive outpourings Saturday that helped the Lady Toppers start the season 3-1.

WKU had 46 hits, 18 for extra bases, in the first weekend with a .365 team batting average. WKU’s four triples accumulated surpasses their total of three from last season. The team has generated 38 runs off its increased production.

“We are getting a lot of contributions from a variety of players in a lot of different ways,” head coach Amy Tudor said in a WKU press release. “Defensively, we had two mishaps but made some phenomenal plays as well. It didn’t hurt us because we had ample run support.”

Freshman Maddie Bowlds began her WKU career in impressive fashion, finishing the weekend going 7-for-10 at the plate, including a double, a triple, two RBI and a stolen base.

Bowlds’ seven hits leads the Lady Toppers on the season after the weekend. Bowlds was 4-for-4 in her collegiate debut before being called out on her fifth at bat for stepping out of the box.

Freshman Shelby Nunn (3-1) collected every decision in the circle for WKU on the weekend.

“Nunn showed a few different look from the mound today, which resulted in more strikeouts – she was impressive,” Tudor said.

WKU defeated Hampton University in game one, 7-6 in eight innings.

Freshman Jordan Thomas kicked off the 2018 campaign with a free base to set up an RBI double by Bowlds to put WKU ahead. Junior Rebekah Engelhardt opened the second with a double, before transfer Junior Jordan Vorbrink brought Engelhardt home to double the lead.

Thomas doubled in the second to bring home Vorbrink before Bowlds brought her home for her second run of the day on an RBI triple to cap a four-run inning.

Engelhardt hit her first home run of the season, the sixth of her career, in the third, before Hampton responded in the bottom of the frame with a three-run home run. WKU pushed the margin back to three in the fourth after senior Brittany Vaughn plated Bowlds on a RBI single.

Hampton evened the score in the seventh before the Lady Toppers’ first double play of the season helped send the game to extra innings. Vorbrink plated Engelhardt, who started on second base with the international tiebreaker rule in place, after the runner made it to third on a wild pitch.

Nunn came to the mound in the eighth to pick up her first win in her debut. Sophomore Haley Towers got the start, pitching three innings with two strikeouts before being relieved by fellow sophomore Kelsey Aikey, who pitched the next three innings with five strikeouts.

WKU dropped the second game against Gardner-Webb University by a score of 5-4.

WKU’s second game of the day was back-and-forth with four lead changes total. WKU again got on the board first in the second inning as junior Kelsey McGuffin found the plate when sophomore Morgan McElroy reached on an error.

Bowlds scored in the third, coming home on a double from fellow freshman Kendall Smith after her sixth hit of the day. Host team GWU retaliated with three runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 3-2 lead into the fourth.

WKU got on the board again in the sixth. Jordan Vorbrink had her second go-ahead hit of the day, a single with the bases loaded that brought Englehardt and sophomore Tommi Stowers across the plate, giving WKU a 4-3 advantage.

GWU responded in the sixth with two runs in the bottom of the inning on three hits, including a double, to secure the victory. Shelby Nunn was on the hook for the loss in a complete game effort. She notched four strikeouts. Coach Tudor said the team’s ability to attack the opposing pitcher early helped the team produce runs.

“If we’re able to carry on this approach, we will put ourselves in a position to continue to be productive offensively, which will in turn help our young pitching staff,” Tudor said in a press release. “All in all, we had a lot of good things happen today that will aid us down the road.

WKU run-ruled Youngstown State University in game three of the weekend, winning 17-6 in five innings.

The Lady Toppers never trailed against YSU. Freshman Kendall Smith hit her first collegiate home run to give WKU a 3-0 advantage early. The Lady Toppers added two more runs in the second to push the lead to 5-0.

The Lady Toppers sent 11 batters to the plate in the third, scoring seven runs on three hits and four errors. A two-run home run by the Penguins in the bottom of the inning left the score 12-2.

A trio of RBI in the fourth pushed the lead again, before YSU added a tally to make it 15-3.

The Lady Toppers closed the game the next inning securing an 11-run margin of victory, its largest since defeating FIU 11-0 in 2015.

WKU then beat HU for the second time in a 10-2 game that only went six innings and ended on a run rule walk-off. The Lady Toppers held Hampton scoreless up until the fifth frame.

The Lady Toppers broke a scoreless tie in the third with a five run barrage, including RBI from Smith, Vaughn, and Stowers. The team scored two runs in the next two innings, before Tommi Stowers brought Cassidy Blackford home to end the game in the bottom of the sixth. Stowers has had WKU’s first walk-off hit in each of the last two seasons. Nunn tossed her best game as a Hilltopper, carrying a no-hitter into the top of the fifth, with 11 strikeouts.

WKU’s final game of the weekend against HU was canceled. WKU has another five-game slate ahead starting Friday in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Reporter Casey McCarthy can be reached at (270)-929-7795 and [email protected]