Three times this year the WKU baseball team has faced a nationally-ranked in-state rival, and three times the Toppers have left with a win.
The three wins against ranked opponents this season is one shy of the total amount the program had over the four years previous to the 2013 season.
“For the in-state and the bragging rights and whatever you want to say, yeah, it’s neat to say that we had the chance to beat the University of Kentucky,” coach Matt Myers said.
On March 19, WKU traveled to Lexington, Ky, to meet then-No. 8 Kentucky. The Toppers jumped out in front from the start and never looked back. The team used three runs in the first inning to propel themselves to a 6-3 win over the Wildcats.
WKU sent a couple of freshman pitchers to the mound that day but in the end, Josh Bartley came out the winner earning his first career win at WKU.
In all, Bartley pitched 2.2 innings, allowing five hits and one run. Fellow freshman Alex Mercer also recorded four strikeouts in the game.
The win was also the first road win over a ranked team for WKU since 2010.
Just a few weeks later, No. 8 Louisville came to town to take on the Toppers at the Bowling Green Ballpark on April 9. Although the Cardinals erased a two-run deficit in the top of the ninth, junior outfielder Regan Flaherty hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the inning to give WKU the 6-5 win.
“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.”
Bartley was again credited with the win for the game as he came on in the ninth inning after junior Justin Hageman allowed a two-run homer to blow the Topper lead.
With the win, WKU defeated both the Wildcats and Cardinals in the same season for the second time since 2011.
The second game against UK proved to be the most dramatic of the three, though.
Tuesday, the Cats and the Tops battled in the longest Division I game this season — 18 innings, ending with a walk-off from a freshman outfielder and Bowling Green native Trevor Lowe.
“I was ready for it to all end,” Lowe said. “We’ve been grinding this whole game and I was sitting on a fastball to be honest with you. I had my foot down and it ended up being a curve ball. It surprised me…This team right here, they fight through anything.”
The final score to the six-hour marathon was 3-2 as the Toppers handed the Wildcats their seventh straight loss and beat them for the sixth time in seven tries.
Despite riding a six-game losing streak entering the game, the Wildcats were still ranked No. 24 in the country, sporting a record of 24-15 before the loss to WKU.
“It’s really hard to put into words last nights game,” Myers said Wednesday. “That’s two games we’ve played at (Bowing Green Ballpark) and they’ve been two of the best games I’ve been a part of…just the competitiveness of both teams…it was just like the last man standing last night.”
The Toppers will go for ultimate bragging rights and the sweep of the Kentucky teams on Tuesday, April 30 when they travel to Louisville to face the Cardinals.