Kelly gives WKU walk-off win over SIU

Senior third baseman Casey Dykes scores a run for WKU on Friday against Southern Illinois at Nick Denes Field. WKU won 10-9 in 13 innings.

Kurt Carson

Just three days after WKU lost 8-7 to Tennessee in 13 innings, the Toppers played another 13-inning marathon on Friday.

However, this time the Toppers (2-3) were able to pull out a 10-9 walk-off victory over Southern Illinois (2-3) at Nick Denes Field.

A leadoff single in the 13th inning by junior shortstop Steve Hodgins followed by the second error of the day from Saluki junior second baseman Brock Harding set up runners on second and third base with only one out.

Junior catcher Devin Kelly, who came in as a defensive replacement in the 11th inning, came through with a walk-off single up the middle to score Hodgins and give WKU a 10-9 victory.

In Kelly’s only other plate appearance of the game, he popped out in the bottom of the 11th inning with the winning run on second base.

Kelly said he came into his second at-bat more relaxed after having missed out on an opportunity the first time around.

“I was just looking for a pitch I could handle,” Kelly said. “The last at-bat I didn’t get a good pitch to handle and I kind of got too anxious.”

Head Coach Matt Myers said he enjoyed seeing Kelly come off the bench and come up with a big hit.

“Devin’s an energy guy and a guy who really keeps our morale up,” Myers said. “That swing was beautiful. He hit that ball as well as you can.”

Although the Toppers came out on top in the end, they got off to a slow start.

SIU scored one run in the first inning and three runs in the second inning to take an early 4-0 lead.

WKU responded with three runs of their own in the bottom of the third inning to cut the deficit to 4-3 due in large part to a two-RBI double by senior second baseman Ivan Hartle.

The Toppers then tied it at 4-4 in the fourth inning with an RBI single from Hodgins.

Junior left-hander Tanner Perkins started for WKU and struggled through six innings of work, giving up seven runs, five of which were earned.

After Perkins’ departure from the mound the Toppers trailed 7-4.

WKU tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth inning on an RBI single from junior right fielder Adam Lavelle and trailed 7-5 with their last chance coming in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Back-to-back singles by junior infielder Blake Crabtree and senior third baseman Casey Dykes got the inning started. A wild pitch put both runners in scoring position with one out.

With two outs, senior center fielder Jared Andreoli hit a dribbler to Harding. But the Saluki second baseman mishandled it and threw it away for his first of two errors, allowing both runs to score and tie it up at 7-7.

Hodgins said that error kept the game alive and, in turn, gave them more confidence and motivation.

“We fed off that one error,” Hodgins said. “We capitalized on their mistakes and won the game.”

Southern Illinois put a run on the board in both the 10th and 11th innings but the Toppers responded and plated runs of their own.

“We’re all here fighting for each other so we all pulled together,” Hodgins said. “There’s no quitting in this dugout.

“We all came in here, ‘let’s go, let’s get everything rolling.’ We just came through.”

Sophomore left-hander Austin Clay, who pitched 2 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball, held down the Salukis once again in the top of the 13th inning and made way for the walk-off win for WKU.

Myers said he’s been impressed with the “fight” in his club that was once again visible tonight.

“It’s in their DNA,” Myers said. “They don’t stop fighting. That’s the most glaring thing that has come out of the first five games – that this team will never stop.”

However, Myers said while he loves the effort his team puts forth there are many things they need to clean up fundamentally.

“We’re not making plays when we need to make plays, we’re walking guys, we’re missing locations across the plate and we missed signs tonight on the offensive side,” Myers said. “There’s a lot of things we need to clean up and when we do that we’re going to be really good.”

Myers said it was “huge” to come out and get a win in the first game of the series, something they couldn’t do last weekend against Toledo.

WKU will continue the series against SIU on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman will make his first start of the year for the Toppers, facing Saluki right-hander Cameron Maldonado (3.60 ERA).

Kelly said the team will be ready for game two.

“Coming after a win, we’re going to more energetic tomorrow with a passion to play this game,” Kelly said.