The New Hit King: Rice breaks record in win over Kentucky

Senior catcher Matt Rice congratulates teammates after WKU’s 11-8 victory over Kentucky Tuesday evening at Bowling Green Ballpark. Rice broke WKU’s all-time hit record with his 282nd career hit Tuesday night. Rice had four hits in the game, giving him 285 in his career.

Brad Stephens

Matt Rice came into Tuesday needing just one hit to break the all-time WKU career hits record.

But in typical Matt Rice fashion, he instead got four hits, leading the Toppers to an 11-8, come-from-behind victory over Kentucky in front of 5,142 fans at Bowling Green Ballpark.

The senior catcher is now No. 1 in school history with 285 career hits, and WKU stands at 25-13 after the win.

The Toppers are also 3-0 all-time at the downtown home of the Single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods.

Rice’s record-breaker came against Wildcat starter Jordan Cooper with a runner on second and no outs in the third inning.

He smashed the first pitch he saw to the left of Kentucky third baseman Thomas McCarthy.

McCarthy dove and knocked the ball down but couldn’t recover in time to get Rice out at first.

The game was temporarily stopped while Rice was presented with the record-breaking ball and received a standing ovation from Topper fans.

WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood said he was thankful Rice was able to break one of the Toppers’ most prestigious records in front of the team’s largest home crowd of the year.

“It was an awful neat thing to see him get the hits record and take a curtain call in front a great crowd,” Finwood said. “He deserved it, and he’ll never forget that.”

However, it seemed for a while that the historic moment would be overshadowed by a WKU loss.

Pitchers Taylor Haydel, Brian Doering and Rye Davis combined to allow eight runs in a fourth inning that saw Kentucky take an 8-2 lead.

Rice cut the lead to five in the fifth inning with a solo home run into the Topper bullpen.

He then collected a leadoff triple and another infield single in an eight-run WKU seventh inning, in which the Toppers took their decisive 11-8 lead.

Rice said the chance to make WKU fans out of those watching the Toppers for the first time Tuesday provided motivation for the comeback.

“You get the opportunity to give these fans something to cheer about,” Rice said. “It was looking rough early, but in the end it was exciting to see we gave them more to cheer about.”

Unfortunately for the Toppers, they won’t be playing in front of such a friendly crowd this weekend.

WKU will instead be traveling to Troy for a three-game set with the Trojans.

With a Sun Belt Conference record of 11-4, Troy stands one game above both the Toppers and Florida Atlantic at the top of the league standings.

But WKU may be catching the Trojans at the right time.

Troy has lost five of its last six games, including dropping the final two of a three-game set against last-place Middle Tennessee.

Junior center fielder Kes Carter, who leads the Toppers with a .388 batting average in Sun Belt play,  said the added pressure of playing for first place won’t affect how WKU plays this weekend.

“A conference series always gets us pumped up,” Carter said. “It’s definitely a little bit bigger with them being a game ahead of us, and they always come to play every time we go down there. We’ll want to be hitting on all cylinders.”

First pitch for tonight’s series opener is 6 p.m., and sophomore left-hander Tanner Perkins will start for WKU.

Rice, fresh off his hits record, needs just one RBI to break that school record as well.

He said that with five conference weekends left, the Toppers must take advantage of the Troy series.

“To this point, this is the biggest series for us,” Rice said. “And Friday night’s the biggest game for us.”