Mobile, Ala. — Chad Cregar drove in a game-high four runs to help lead the Western Kentucky University baseball team to an 8-4 win over South Alabama on Sunday in the final game of a three-game Sun Belt Conference series at Eddie Stanky Field. WKU took two of the three game on the weekend to pick up its first series win over the Jaguars for the first time since 1998.
The win improved the Hilltoppers to 9-6 overall and 3-3 in the Sun Belt. The Jaguars fell to 10-7 and 1-2 in the conference.
Sunday’s game started much like game two of the series as Scott Kaskie was hit by the first pitch of the game by USA starter Kevin Nabors, and moved to third on a single by Matt Hightower. Cregar then singled home the Kaskie with the first run of the game as WKU again had runners at the corners with nobody out. Nabors got Wade Gaynor to ground into a double play, but Hightower came home to score to give the Toppers a 2-0 lead. J.B. Paxson gave the Toppers a 4-0 lead in the second as he hit his first home run of the season after Terrence Dayleg started the inning by reaching on an error.
The Jags were able to break through against WKU starter Colby Beach in the second when Ryan Jernigan led off the inning with a walk, and moved into scoring position when he stole second. After moving to third on a groundout, Jernigan scored on a Clint Toomey single to get USA on the board and make it a three-run game.
The Hilltoppers added another run in the fifth inning when Cregar again singled home Kaskie to make it a 5-1 game, then got solid relief work in the bottom of the inning from Evan Teague to get out of a jam.
After Beach walked Ray Kruml and Chris Davis to open the inning, Adam Balcom came out of the bullpen and hit David Doss to load the bases with nobody out. Teague then took the mound and got both Ryan Bohanan and Jernigan to pop up on the infield. Hightower then made a diving catch in left on a ball hit by Ryan McCrory to end the inning and preserve the four-run lead.
The Hilltoppers responded offensively in the sixth, sending eight men to the plate and bringing in three more runs. After a leadoff single from Paxson and an bunt hit by Drew Morgan, Kaskie doubled to drive in the first run of the inning. Hightower then hit a chopper to Jernigan at second, who was able to throw out Morgan at the plate for the second out of the inning. After Hightower moved to second on a Brandon Sage wild pitch, Cregar again came through with a two-run single as the Toppers stretched their lead to 8-1.
A pair of one-out walks came back to haunt Bryce Jenney in the bottom of the sixth. After the free passes, Kruml grounded out to second to move the runners into scoring position with two outs. However, Davis came through with an RBI single to drive in both runs and cut the Hilltopper lead to 8-3.
USA added a run in the seventh when Bunky Kateon singled home Jernigan, but the Topper bullpen blanked the Jaguars in the final two innings, with Rye Davis striking out the final two batters of the ninth to sew up the victory.
Cregar finished the day 3-for-3 at the plate, while Kaskie, Gaynor and Paxson added two hits each. Davis paced the Jaguars with two hits and a pair of RBI.
Teague (1-0) picked up the win in relief, while Nabors (2-2) suffered the loss for USA.
WKU returns home for four of its next five games, beginning with a 6 p.m. (CDT) game on Tuesday against Belmont.