On Wednesday Head Coach Matt Myers said WKU showed little fight after getting down early in a loss to Evansville.
Myers used the word “embarrassing” to describe his team and said they “came out with their heads down.”
That was not the case on Saturday as WKU (6-8) mounted a comeback to defeat Western Illinois (4-8) 9-4 at Nick Denes Field.
The victory awarded WKU with its first back-to-back wins of the season.
The Toppers scored a total of eight runs in the fifth and sixth innings to overcome an early 4-0 deficit and secure a comfortable lead.
Myers said he was glad to see a difference in the players’ attitudes from Wednesday’s game.
WKU loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth inning with just one out on two walks and a single.
Junior left-fielder Adam Lavelle put the Toppers on the board with a two-RBI single up the middle to cut the Leathernecks’ lead to 4-2.
WKU tacked on another run in the inning when third baseman Matt Igara misplayed a groundball that allowed sophomore first baseman Scott Wilcox to score and made it 4-3 in favor of Western Illinois.
The Toppers’ comeback wasn’t finished, as they loaded the bases again in the bottom of the sixth with just one out.
Wilcox hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Back-to-back walks to Lavelle and senior right-fielder Ryan Hutchison gave WKU a 5-4 lead with two outs.
WKU has had problems accumulating two-out hits early in the season, but both senior third baseman Casey Dykes and junior catcher Devin Kelly came through in a big situation.
Dykes hit a two-RBI single and Kelly hit an RBI single of his own to give the Toppers a comfortable 8-4 edge.
“We got some big two-out hits and some big two-strike hits today that we haven’t had all year,” Myers said. “Today we got them and all of a sudden we could take a deep breath.”
Kelly came in to Saturday’s game with a .176 batting average but raised it to .259 with a 2-for-5 effort and two RBIs.
Kelly said it was important for him to be a part of the big inning given the troubles he’s had at the plate.
“It just felt good to help the team tonight,” Kelly said. “Tonight I felt like I actually helped the team with my at-bats and behind the plate.”
Western Illinois got out in front first by taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning before plating three runs in the third inning.
In the third inning, Leatherneck shortstop Austin Cowen hit a two-RBI double and eventually scored on an error to give Western Illinois a 4-0 lead.
Sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman started for the Toppers, coming off a rough outing last weekend in which he gave up nine earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings in a loss to Kent State.
Hageman lasted five innings Saturday afternoon and allowed three earned runs while recording four strikeouts.
Freshman left-hander Ian Tompkins came on for WKU and pitched three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit.
“I was just trying to keep putting up zeros to give our team a chance,” Tompkins said.
Myers said he thought Tompkins’ presence on the mound was the turning point of the game.
“He took the momentum out of their dugout and put it in ours,” Myers said. “You couldn’t throw three better innings. I mean before they could get a sip of water he was on out number two.”
Tompkins had struggled with his command coming in to the game having walked 10 batters in 12 2/3 innings of work. However on Saturday he threw 23 of his 33 pitches for strikes and issued no walks.
“I’ve had a few rough innings this season and they were due to lack of confidence,” Tompkins said. “But I think I’ve found my confidence to where I can go in and produce right off the bat instead of having to settle in after a few wild pitches or walks.”
The Toppers got an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth when Kelly added another RBI to his stat line with a single on a line drive to center to give WKU a 9-4 lead.
Tompkins took the game all the way to the ninth inning and handed the ball off to junior right-hander Taylor Haydel, who finished the game and earned the Toppers a series win.
Myers said he wants the team to continue adding pressure on the Leathernecks tomorrow as they look for their first series sweep.
“I want these guys not being content,” Myers said. “They’ll come out tomorrow with the opportunity to win and I want them focused. It’s going to be very important for our guys to challenge again.”
The Toppers will send junior left-hander Tim Bado to the Nick Denes Field mound at 1 p.m. on Sunday to try and earn the sweep in the series finale against Western Illinois.