Toppers ready for Sun Belt tournament after sweeping Blue Raiders

Elliott Pratt

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The WKU baseball team capped off its season with a series and season sweep of Middle Tennessee with a 3-2 win at Reese Smith Jr. Field in Murfreesboro Saturday afternoon.

The win puts WKU (28-27, 16-14 Sun Belt Conference) over .500 to close the regular season and gives them the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament where they will play either Florida Atlantic or Louisiana-Lafayette Wednesday.

If the Toppers draw FAU, it will be the fifth time in six years that WKU has faced the Owls to begin the tournament.

Coach Matt Myers said the sweep gives his team all the momentum they need heading into the post season.

“We were coming down here to win this thing and give Middle all we had,” Myers said. “We’re very familiar with (FAU). We’ll go make our adjustments…we’ll get the guys back and get ready to go.”

Junior Justin Hageman was going to originally start at pitcher Saturday for WKU, but Myers made the decision to put Owensboro native Austin Clay on the mound for the season finale.

It turned out to be a good call for the Toppers as Clay threw 95 balls in 6.2 innings recording four strikeouts and allowed five hits.

“It’s neat when you have a guy like Austin who can come in and pitch really well for us when we decided to rest Hageman for game one of the tournament,” Myers said. “Once he got ahead in the count, he made it very tough for Middle to hit.”

The Hilltoppers picked up right where they left off with early hitting to begin the game. Senior infielder Ryan Huck blasted a two-run homer of the season into the second level concourse of Floyd Stadium to give WKU the early 2-0 lead in the opening inning.

It was the 15th home run for Huck on the season and moved the senior into a tie for 10th place all-time in WKU history for career home runs.

After six strong innings of pitching, Clay walked three runners to load the bases in the bottom of the seventh, leading Myers to replace the redshirt sophomore after only one run on five hits.

Sophomore Brennan Pearson took over for Clay and on his first pitch, hit the batter to walk a runner home and tie the game at two runs apiece.

In the top of the ninth with the bases loaded, Steve Hodgins was hit by the pitch, which allowed a go ahead run to put WKU back on top ultimately for the 3-2 win.

Hodgins said it will be important team to relax and ride their win streak heading into the tournament.

“It’s not how you start the season, it’s how you finish it,” Hodgins said. “We’re playing well and we’ve got this thing rolling and I’m excited to get down to Lafayette.”