Mobile, Ala. — The Western Kentucky University baseball team got another solid start from sophomore Matt Ridings, and pounded out 10 hits as they evened the weekend series with South Alabama at one game apiece with an 8-5 win Saturday afternoon at Stanky Field.
WKU improved to 8-6 overall and 2-3 in the Sun Belt Conference with the win, while the Jags fell to 10-6 and 1-1 in the league. The two teams will play the rubber game of the series on Sunday at 1 p.m. (CDT).
The Hilltoppers wasted little time getting on the board against USA starter Eric Gonzalez. Scott Kaskie led off the game with a single, and a hit-and-run single by Matt Hightower put runners at the corners. Chad Cregar followed with an RBI single to bring home Kaskie before a fielder’s choice off the bat of Wade Gaynor again put runners at the corners with one out. A Gonzalez wild pitch then chased home Hightower from third to give WKU starter Matt Ridings a 2-0 cushion before he ever threw a pitch.
The Toppers struck again in the fifth, loaded the bases with nobody out before Jake Wells drove in a pair with a single stretch the lead to 4-0. Two outs later, Drew Morgan — who made his first start of the season on Saturday — drive a ball through the middle that brought home two more runs to push the lead to six runs.
The Hilltopper defense stopped a pair of USA scoring opportunities early in the game. WKU turned a pair of double plays in the first two innings, including one in the second after the Jaguars loaded the bases with nobody out. Then, with the Toppers still leading just 2-0 in the fourth, Bunky Kateon hit a fly ball down the right field line that Matt Bracken was unable to make a catch on a diving attempt. However, Bracken was able to regroup and get the ball to Matt Payton, who threw out Ryan Bohanan at the plate to preserve the shutout.
The Jaguars broke up the shutout in the sixth when David Doss and Bohanan led off the inning with back-to-back singles. An RBI double from Ryne Jernigan drove in Doss with USA’s first run, and Chris Davis brought home Bohanan with a sacrifice fly that also allowed Jernigan to move to third. That allowed him to come in to score on a Kateon groundout to cut the Hilltopper lead in half.
Gaynor quickly got one of those runs back as he led off the top of the seventh with a home run to straightaway center, pushing the WKU lead to 7-3. Hightower drove in the eight Hilltopper run of the game in the eighth when he doubled home Payton.
Ridings (4-0) pitched into the seventh inning for the first time in his four starts, going 6.2 innings and allowing three runs — all in one inning — on six hits. He also struck out 10 batters for the second straight game.
The Jaguars got to the Hilltopper bullpen in the eighth as three straight batters walked to load the bases with nobody out. Ryan McCrory followed with a two-run single to cut the WKU lead to 8-5 and bring the tying run to the plate. After Jake Overstreet reached on an error to again load the bases, Evan Teague came out of the bullpen to strike out Ray Kruml for the first out of the inning. Clint Toomey then hit a slow roller on the infield, and as the Toppers attempted to turn the double play, Overstreet was called for runner’s interference to end the inning and keep in a three-run lead for WKU.
Rye Davis came in to pitch a scoreless ninth to earn his first save of the season as WKU claimed the three-run victory.
Hightower, Gaynor, Wells and Payton each had two hits to lead the Hilltopper offense, while Well and Morgan collected a game-high two RBI each. Jernigan finished with two hits for the Jaguars.