Carter’s home runs, Gardner’s complete game secures series win against FIU in doubleheader sweep

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WKU outfielder, Paige Carter (26) led the game off with a homerun during the game against Kentucky on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Jake Moore, Softball beat reporter

WKU Softball (23-11), (6-5, C-USA) secured the series win against FIU (12-24), (4-11, C-USA) by winning games two and three of the four-game series on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Miami, Florida. The Hilltoppers now sit one game above .500 in conference play and are riding a five-game winning streak.

Game 1: WKU 4, FIU 3

Redshirt sophomore Kennedy Sullivan made her eighth start of the year and fourth in a row in the first game of the day but was relieved by redshirt junior Shelby Nunn after just one and one-third innings.

Redshirt senior Paige Carter led off with a double in the top of the first inning and redshirt sophomore Jordan Ridge put down a bunt single to advance Carter to third base. Ridge then stole second and Carter scored on a throwing error during the same play to give WKU an early 1-0 lead. Ridge would go on to steal third base before the inning was over.

FIU loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the second inning due to three walks, prompting redshirt junior Shelby Nunn to relieve Sullivan. The Golden Panthers failed to score as the Hilltoppers got the second out at home plate and ended the inning by converting a ground-out. 

The Hilltoppers were retired in order in the top of the third inning and FIU took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the frame due to a two-RBI single followed by an RBI double. WKU took one of those runs back in the top of the fourth inning when redshirt junior Kendall Smith scored on a fielder’s choice and the Hilltoppers entered the bottom of the fourth down 3-2.

Shelby Nunn induced three ground-outs in a row using just seven pitches to end the fourth inning. Redshirt junior Maddie Bowlds hit an RBI single to drive in redshirt sophomore Jordan Ridge to tie the game in the top of the fifth inning and redshirt freshman Brylee Hage hit an RBI single of her own to drive in Kennedy Sullivan. 

The Hilltoppers entered the bottom of the fifth ahead by a score of 4-3 and Nunn put together another seven-pitch frame to send the game to the sixth inning. Neither team could muster any offense in the sixth and an FIU runner ended up stranded on base.

The Golden Panthers would get a runner on third base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning but weren’t able to tie the game. Nunn finished the game having pitched five and two-thirds innings in relief, picking up a strikeout and keeping FIU to just three runs.

Jordan Ridge collected two hits and stole two bases and Brylee Hage accounted for two RBIs in the victory. Paige Carter’s double was her 13th of the season.

Game 2: WKU 10, FIU 1

Redshirt freshman Katie Gardner made her fourth start of the season in the second game of the doubleheader. She put together a complete game while accumulating eight strikeouts and held FIU to just one run on two hits.

The Hilltoppers scored first in the top of the second inning thanks to a fielder’s choice by redshirt sophomore Taylor Davis, an RBI single by redshirt freshman TJ Webster and a sacrifice fly from Paige Carter. WKU left the frame with a 3-0 lead.

Katie Gardner picked up a pair of strikeouts in the bottom of the second inning and struck out the side in the bottom of the third to complete three hitless innings.

Taylor Davis led off the fourth inning with the first triple of her collegiate career and Paige Carter brought her home with her 10th home run of the season to give WKU a 5-0 lead. 

FIU got on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning with a solo home run that cut WKU’s lead to 5-1. It was the Golden Panther’s first hit of the game. 

WKU got that run back and then some in the top of the fifth inning when Brylee Hage hit a sacrifice fly to score Kendall Smith and Taylor Davis drove in redshirt junior Maddie Bowlds with an RBI single. The Hilltoppers left the frame holding a 7-1 lead.

Gardner only needed six pitches to get through the bottom of the fifth inning and WKU extended its lead to 8-1 thanks to Paige Carter’s second home run of the game and 11th of the year in the top of the sixth. Carter now leads the team in home runs this season.

FIU put a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the sixth inning with a double but Gardner’s seventh strikeout of the day left the runner stranded at second base. The Hilltoppers extended the lead even further to 10-1 thanks to a two-RBI single from Jordan Ridge in the top of the seventh. Ridge would then go on to steal second base, her third swipe of the day.

Gardner closed out her complete game by picking up one more strikeout in the final inning, handing WKU the series win.

Taylor Davis and Maddie Bowlds both racked up three hits, TJ Webster and Paige Carter collected two hits apiece and Jordan Ridge stole three bases. The Hilltoppers combined for 14 hits as a team during the rout.

The Hilltoppers will take the dirt on Sunday at 11 a.m. CT looking to complete the sweep of the Golden Panthers.

Softball beat reporter Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.