Sullivan, Gardner twirl pair of complete game shut-outs in senior weekend season finale


Credit: WKU Athletics

WKU freshman Kennedy Sullivan throws a pitch during WKU’s 9-7 win against Indiana State at the Softball Complex on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

WKU Softball (27-12), (10-6, C-USA) completed its sweep of Florida Atlantic University (12-35), (6-14, C-USA) on Saturday in the team’s second doubleheader in as many days to round out WKU’s regular season. The Hilltoppers shut out the Owls in every game but the series opener. WKU finished strong, winning nine of its final ten games.

“I feel like after this series sweep, we’re going to go into the tournament strong,” redshirt sophomore Kennedy Sullivan said. “Hopefully we can take this momentum into next week.”

The Hilltoppers honored their seniors in a pre-game ceremony, recognizing the work of redshirt seniors Kelsey Aikey and Paige Carter as well as WKU graduate Morgan McElroy. McElroy was not able to be recognized in 2020 due to COVID-19 and did not accept the extra year of eligibility the NCAA provided, instead choosing to focus on her professional career.

“It was nice to be honored, just to listen to everything that I’ve accomplished over the last five years,” Carter said. 

“It was awesome, Western has definitely developed into my home,” Aikey said. “The fans here, and all the parents and everything, it’s just wonderful to be here and have them love and support you. Definitely feels good.”

Game 1: WKU 3, FAU 0

Kennedy Sullivan made her second start in a row in game one of the doubleheader. The two-way player threw a three-hit complete-game shutout while racking up four strikeouts. Sullivan has now thrown 17.1 scoreless innings in a row.

FAU left a runner stranded in the top of the first inning and WKU followed the Owl’s lead in the bottom of the frame as Sullivan singled but was left on base. The Owls were retired in order in the top of the second and Sullivan picked up her first strikeout of the day.

Redshirt freshman Brylee Hage hit her sixth double of the year to drive in redshirt sophomore Princess Valencia, giving the Hilltoppers a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. The Owls would gain a baserunner after Sullivan surrendered a walk in the top of the third, but a fly-out to Hage left the runner stranded.

The Hilltoppers were able to put two runners on base in the bottom of the third inning but a double-play sent the team to the dugout without scoring. Sullivan retired the side in the top of the fourth using just 10 pitches. WKU was retired in order in the bottom of the frame.

Sullivan picked up her second strikeout of the day and the Hilltoppers put together a 5-4-3 double-play to end the top of the fifth inning.

Redshirt freshman TJ Webster singled in the bottom of the frame and Paige Carter sent her to second base with a single of her own. Webster then advanced to third on a wild pitch before she and Carter pulled off a double-steal of second and home to extend WKU’s lead to 2-0.

“We like to call that the razzle-dazzle,” Carter said. “It’s the ability of having someone fast on third, just trying to keep the defense on their toes.”

Redshirt sophomore Jordan Ridge singled to put runners on first and third and a sacrifice fly from Sullivan allowed Carter to score. Ridge then stole second for her seventh swipe of the season. The Hilltoppers entered the sixth inning holding a 3-0 lead.

Sullivan surrendered a double in the top of the sixth, but her third strikeout of the day and a pair of pop-ups left the runner stranded. The Hilltoppers were retired in order in the bottom of the frame. Sullivan returned to the circle in the top of the seventh, induced a pair of ground-outs, and ended the game with her fourth strikeout.

Paige Carter and Sullivan both had two-hit games and Carter, Ridge and Webster all stole a base apiece in the win.

Game 2: WKU 7, FAU 0

Redshirt freshman Katie Gardner made her sixth start of the year in the regular-season finale. The righty threw a complete-game four-hit shutout to seal the series sweep for the Hilltoppers.

“Throughout the season I’ve done a lot of sitting and warming up, never getting put in but always ready to play,” Gardner said.” I think for today I just took the opportunity of getting to play and I performed.

FAU was retired in order in the top of the first frame on three straight ground-outs. Paige Carter led off the bottom of the frame with her 17th double of the year, setting a WKU single-season record. However, she was left on the base paths.

Brylee Hage singled and freshman Kennedy Foote reached on an error before Hage was driven in by TJ Webster to give WKU a 1-0 lead entering the third inning. 

The Owls were retired in order in the top of the third as Gardner picked up her first strikeout.

Jordan Ridge led off the bottom of the frame by hitting her fifth home run of the season to extend WKU’s lead to 2-0. Redshirt junior Maddie Bowlds and Brylee Hage hit back-to-back doubles to tack on another run. 

TJ Webster got on board with a single in the bottom of the fourth and both Carter and Ridge drew walks to load the bases with one out. Kennedy Sullivan then singled to drive in Webster and redshirt junior Kendall Smith fouled out to score Carter. The Hilltoppers carried a 5-0 lead into the fifth inning. 

In the bottom of the fifth, TJ Webster hit an RBI single to score Brylee Hage and Paige Carter singled to drive in Taylor Davis. The Hilltoppers entered the sixth inning leading by a score of 7-0.

Princess Valencia hit a single in the bottom of the sixth, but was left stranded. Katie Gardner finished out her four-hit complete-game shutout by inducing a ground-out and picking up her fifth and sixth strikeouts.

TJ Webster and Brylee Hage both put together three-hit performances, Paige Carter tallied two hits and Taylor Davis stole a base in the finale.

“At the end of the season, you want to be peaking,” Aikey said when asked about the recent performances of her fellow pitchers. “All of our pitchers are, so that feels good.”

The Hilltoppers now turn their attention to the Conference USA Softball Championship that will be held May 12-15. WKU will host the tournament at the WKU Softball Complex and the tournament bracket is slated to be released on Sunday. The Hilltoppers are the first host team to make the tournament since 2014.

Sports Editor Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.