WKU defeats in-state rival Louisville

Austin Lanter

After blowing a two-run lead in the ninth, the Toppers scored a run in the bottom half of the frame to beat eighth-ranked Louisville 6-5.

The win is WKU’s second this season over a team ranked in the top 10, with the over being against Kentucky last month. It is also the second time that WKU has defeated both Kentucky and Louisville in the same season since 2011.

“Every win with these guys feel the same honestly,” coach Matt Myers said. “…For us to beat the top closer in the country (Louisville’s Nick Burdi) it says a lot about the toughness of our guys…These guys never stop fighting. I was just sitting there and didn’t even know what to tell them, I just had tears in my eyes.”

The Cardinals were able to break through in the fourth inning and score the first run of the game. Right fielder Cole Sturgeon started the inning with a single and then pitcher Austin Clay retired the next two batters. However, after a hit batter, catcher Shane Crain recorded a two out RBI single to plate the run.

The lead, however, would not last long.

Junior infielder Scott Wilcox started the fourth with a double. The very next batter, senior infielder Ryan Huck, hit a two run shot to put WKU in front 2-1. The homer was Huck’s 10th of the season and his 30th and 31st RBIs of the season, both team-highs.

Huck also entered the game tied for 10th in the nation in home runs this season.

Later that inning, sophomore catcher Ryan Messex reached base on an error with two outs. Senior infielder Blake Crabtree then stepped up to the plate next and blasted a two run shot to extend the WKU lead to 4-1. The homer was Crabtree’s first since 2010.

“I got ahead in the count and I just knew I wouldn’t get beat with a fastball,” Crabtree said. “I just thought I’d get things going early.”

Clay had a strong outing for WKU, pitching five innings, allowing seven hits, and only one run. He also outlasted Louisville starting pitcher Kyle McGrath, who pitched 3.1 innings, allowed four hits, and two runs.

“I didn’t really spot my breaking ball like I wanted to,” Clay said. “I was hitting guys with it and all kinds of stuff. “

In the seventh inning, the Cards were able to load the bases off of junior pitcher Jake Thompson and bring two runs in. Thompson recorded one out before Myers replaced him with sophomore Ian Tompkins.

Tompkins forced the batter, Sturgeon, to groundout but the run from third scored making it a 4-2 Hilltopper lead. With two outs, Tompkins threw a wild pitch to plate another run and bring the Cards within one, but that was all for Louisville.

In the eighth inning, the Cards had runners on the corners with two outs but senior pitcher Taylor Haydel got the batter to groundout to maintain the one-run lead for the Toppers.

WKU extended its lead in the bottom half of the inning. Junior infielder Scott Wilcox was walked to begin the inning, reached third on a throwing error, and crossed home plate on a wild pitch to make it 5-3.

Myers sent junior pitcher Justin Hageman to the mound to close the game out in the ninth inning.

Sturgeon, however, had other ideas. After Hageman walked his first batter, Sturgeon blasted a two-run shot over the right field wall to tie the game at five.

“You think Sturgeon hits the home run and the wind goes out of our sails,” Myers said.

Freshman pitcher Josh Bartley avoided further damage in the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Toppers were able to load the bases with no outs courtesy of two errors by Louisville and an intentional walk. With two outs, junior outfielder Regan Flaherty connected on a RBI single over the first baseman’s head to win the game 6-5.

It was Flaherty’s second walk off in the last two weeks.

“For my at-bat I thought he was going to challenge me with fastballs, which he did, and I was just trying to make contact,” Flaherty said. “Luckily it fell in the hole…Just trying to do whatever I can do to help my team win.”

Barley was credited with the win for the game, his second of the year. It was also WKU’s 33rd straight win when leading after eight innings.

The Toppers will be back in action this weekend with a three game set against Troy at home. Game one will be on Friday at 6 p.m. with games two and three at 3 p.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday respectively.