Hilltoppers blow four-run lead in ninth, losing in extra innings to Belmont


Allie Hendricks

WKU junior infielder Tristin Garcia runs to home plate after hitting a triple and scoring off a throwing error, scoring the first run of the game against Western Illinois University at Nick Denes field on Feb. 20, 2022.

Camden Bush, Baseball Reporter

WKU Baseball (8-8) lost a heartbreaker 8-7 in extra innings to the Belmont Bruins (13-5) after the Hilltoppers led by four runs heading into the ninth. The programs combined for 26 hits on Tuesday as WKU dropped its midweek game in Nashville, Tennessee. 

“You have to finish games, and we certainly didn’t finish the game,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said. “We put ourselves in a position to win and be successful, and we just didn’t execute late in the game. Whether it’s on the mound, obviously we gave them way too many free bases. Whether it’s defensively, we made a couple mistakes there too. No matter who you play or where you play, you have to be able to finish and we certainly didn’t do that tonight.”

WKU redshirt sophomore Bill Duby went 3.2 innings, allowing two runs on six hits while walking three Bruins. The Hilltoppers used nine different pitchers on the day. Belmont freshman Jordan Zuger went 3.1 innings, allowing three runs on eight hits.

The Hilltoppers saw five different batters record multiple hits on the day. Juniors Matthew Meyer and Jackson Gray led the way for WKU. Gray tallied two hits while Meyer had three, including a home run. Sophomore Guy Lipscomb led the way for the Bruins. Lipscomb recorded four hits in six at bats on the day.

“I’ve been seeing the ball well,” Meyer said. “Before this hot streak, I was bouncing balls up. It’s nice just to have them drop. All I try to do is just try to hit it hard. If it goes to the fans or if it goes right at someone that’s the goal, so it’s been nice that they’ve been landing and hopefully keep it going.”

Zuger retired the first batter he faced to start the game before allowing a single to junior Tristin Garcia. Zuger sat down the next two batters to end the frame. Lipscomb led off the bottom of the first with a single. Duby hit the next batter before forcing a flyout. Belmont pulled off a double steal in the next at bat but failed to score as Duby retired the next two batters. 

The Hilltoppers led off the top of the second with back-to-back singles. Gray gave WKU the lead with a one-out RBI single to left later in the inning, giving WKU a 1-0 lead. Zuger retired the next batter before Gray was picked off to end the inning. 

Senior Jackson Campbell led off the bottom of the second with a double. Belmont evened the score with a one-out RBI groundout by junior Grayson Taylor. Duby allowed a two-out single before forcing an inning-ending flyout.

Zuger recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the third. The Bruins recorded a single and a walk in the bottom of the third but could not manage to score. 

Zuger retired the first batter he faced in the top of the fourth before allowing a solo homer to junior Matthew Meyer. Graduate Brian McAuliffe followed with a double. Freshman Brett Blomquist hit an RBI double in the next at bat to make it 3-1. The following batter singled, prompting a pitching change to sophomore Lane Lamberth. 

Lamberth allowed an RBI single to freshman Brodie Mackay. Redshirt sophomore Ty Crittenberger followed with an RBI groundout. Garcia gave the Hilltoppers a 6-1 lead with an RBI single. Lamberth retired the next batter to end the top of the fourth.

Duby retired the first batter he faced in the bottom of the fourth before allowing a double and a single. Junior Carson Shacklett made it 6-2 with an RBI groundout in the next at bat. Duby walked the next batter, prompting a pitching change to junior Wade Chandler who only faced one batter and walked him. Sophomore Dalton Mesaris retired the first batter he faced to end the inning. 

Lamberth allowed a one-out single in the top of the fifth before a double play ended the frame. Mesaris sat the Bruins down in order to end the fifth inning. 

The Hilltoppers were retired in order in the top of the sixth. Redshirt junior Ryan Luckett relieved Mesaris after Mesaris walked the first batter he faced in the bottom of the sixth. Luckett forced a double play and was replaced after walking a batter. Freshman Cole Heath retired the first batter he faced to end the inning.

Freshman Caleb Guisewite started the top of the seventh on the mound for the Bruins. Guisewite retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a walk that sophomore Aidan Gilroy followed with an RBI triple. 

Heath allowed back-to-back singles to start the bottom of the inning before allowing a sac fly RBI to Campbell, cutting the Belmont deficit to 7-3. Heath hit the next batter, prompting a pitching change to junior Hunter Crosby who retired the first batter he faced to end the inning.

Guisewite was relieved in the top of the eighth after walking the first two batters of the inning. Senior Chandler Schultz entered the game and prevented the Hilltoppers from scoring despite a one-out walk. The Bruins recorded a two-out single but failed to score in the bottom of the eighth.

The Hilltoppers recorded a single in the top of the ninth but failed to get anything else going in the inning. Crosby returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth for the Hilltoppers. Crosby was relieved after allowing back-to-back base runners on a walk and an error with one out in the inning.

Junior Mason Vinyard entered the game and retired the first batter he faced before allowing three straight two-out RBI singles to tie the game 7-7. Vinyard retired the next batter to send the game to extra innings.

WKU saw two batters reach base in the top of the tenth but failed to take the lead back. Freshman Cooper Hellman took the mound for the Hilltoppers in the bottom of the tenth. Hellman walked three batters to load the bases and was relieved with two outs in the inning. 

Junior Wil Moritz entered the game and walked the first batter he faced to give the Bruins a 8-7 victory.

“This weekend playing Charlotte, we’re excited about getting into conference play,” Pawlowski said. “It means something to these guys. Every game does, but you want to go out and win a conference championship. We certainly have a lot of things we’ve got to improve upon and this loss tonight is tough, but we’ll have to get ourselves ready and move forward from it.”

Up next, the Hilltoppers will kick off conference play with a three-game series at Charlotte beginning Friday at 5 p.m. CT.

Baseball Reporter Camden Bush can be reached at [email protected].