The Hilltoppers came out on top with a 9-8 win in a back-and-forth battle against the Belmont Bruins on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at Nick Denes Field.
WKU’s (11-17, 2-7 C-USA) offense exploded for a four-run eighth inning to put the home team over the top. The win was a revenge game for the Hilltoppers. Belmont (19-10, 5-1 OVC) beat WKU earlier in the season in comeback fashion similar to WKU’s comeback. The win gives WKU two wins in its last three games after losing eight straight.
“[I’m] really excited about how we came back, that’s a good sign for this team,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said. “All year, it hasn’t been easy for this group, but they kept believing and found a way.”
Bowling Green saw a downpour of rain earlier in the day, leading to a slick playing surface and a very small amount of fans at the Hilltoppers’ exciting mid-week contest.
Sophomore Luke Stofel started for the Hilltoppers on a day where the team used seven pitchers, including redshirt junior Jake Kates. Stofel went four innings and allowed four runs on four hits. The Bruins used seven pitchers as well with freshman Jordan Zuger getting the start. Zuger went two scoreless innings, allowing only one hit.
The Hilltoppers’ offense shined for nine runs on the day. Junior Tristin Garcia, graduate Brian McAuliffe and freshman Ty Batusich led the way for WKU. Batusich had three hits and McAuliffe had a grand slam while Garcia had two hits, including his first home run of the year. Junior John Behrends led the way for Belmont offensively with three hits on the day.
“It felt pretty good to get my first home run out of the way for the season,” Garcia said. “That big double in the last inning felt good as well, but I just keep trying to put good at bats together and help the team out whenever I can.”
The wet turf made an immediate impact in the first inning. With one out in the top of the first, WKU left fielder Brett Blomquist lost a ball on a hop, allowing Behrends to reach second. Stofel limited the damage, keeping the Bruins off the board in the first. Zuger retired the Hilltoppers in order in the bottom of the first to end the inning.
The Bruins went down in order in the top of the second as centerfielder redshirt sophomore Ty Crittenberger made a great catch to end the inning. The Hilltoppers failed to score in the bottom of the second despite a two-out walk and single.
Junior Jack Capobianco slid into third with a triple to begin the third inning while junior Grayson Taylor followed with an RBI groundout to give Belmont a 1-0 lead. Stofel retired the next two to end the top of the third. The Hilltoppers tied it 1-1 in the bottom of the third on Garcia’s first homer of the year.
The fourth inning flew by as both teams went down in order.
The Bruins led off the fifth with a double followed by a two-run home run by senior Jackson Campbell. Three straight batters reached on two walks and a hit by pitch. Belmont scored three more runs in the inning to make it 6-1 on an RBI groundout and a two-run RBI single by sophomore Brodey Heaton.
The Hilltoppers recorded five straight two-out hits in the fifth, highlighted by a grand slam by McAuliffe to cut the Bruins’ lead to 6-5.
Belmont put two men on base in the top of the sixth but failed to score as the Hilltoppers went down in order in the bottom of the frame.
The Bruins made it a 7-5 game in the top of the seventh thanks to a lead-off shot to right by Behrends. Belmont threatened later in the inning but failed to produce another run. The Hilltoppers once again failed to put a man on base in the seventh.
Behrends gave the Bruins a 8-5 lead in the top of the eighth. Behrends followed a single with an RBI double down the left field line.
In the bottom of the eighth, the first three WKU batters reached base on a walk and two hit-by-pitches. The Hilltoppers cut the deficit to one on back-to-back RBI groundouts before Garcia tied the game at 8-8 with an RBI double. Batusich followed with an RBI double to give WKU a 9-8 lead.
“We’ve always been hanging with teams, and to finally pull off a win is good for us, it builds our confidence for this weekend and hopefully we can keep it going,” Garcia said.
Redshirt junior Mason Vinyard entered for WKU in the top of the ninth and kept the Bruins off the board to give the Hilltoppers a 9-8 victory.
“Now, we’ve won two out of three,” Pawlowski said. “That is something positive that this team can draw from and hopefully they’ll continue to continue to understand that as we move forward.”
Up next, the Hilltoppers will stay in Bowling Green for a weekend series against FIU beginning at 5 p.m. CT Friday.
Baseball Reporter Camden Bush can be reached at [email protected].