Bowling Green, Ky. — Junior Chad Cregar has put up impressive numbers in his first season with the Western Kentucky University baseball team, but he has not put together a day better than Saturday when he helped lead the Hilltoppers to a doubleheader sweep over Florida International, winning the first game 14-6 and taking the nightcap 17-1.
In the two games, Cregar combined to go 6-for-9 at the plate with four home runs — including a grand slam in each game — and 12 RBI.
The two wins helped the Hilltoppers improve to 17-11 overall and 5-6 in the Sun Belt Conference, while the Golden Panthers fell to 11-22 and 5-6 in the league.
WKU powered its way to a 14-6 win in game one, thanks mostly to a four-hit, two-home run, seven-RBI game by Cregar. The Hilltoppers scored 11 of their 14 runs in the in the fourth and fifth innings. Already holding a 1-0 lead entering the bottom of the fourth, WKU sent 11 men to the plate and scored seven runs. The Toppers got their first run of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Terrence Dayleg, and a Matt Bracken single brought home Jake Wells to make it a 3-0 game. They then loaded the bases with two outs before an error by Ryan Mollica allowed a third run to score and keep the inning alive. That proved costly as Cregar followed with a grand slam into the right-field bullpen to stretch the lead to 8-0.
Another Golden Panther error led to two of WKU’s four runs in the fifth inning as it scored in double figures for the ninth time this season.
After being held scoreless by Hilltopper starter Bart Carter through the first four innings, FIU was able to plate runs in four straight at bats to keep things interesting. Lammar Guy and Corey Lozano drove in the first two runs of the game for the Panthers in the fifth inning. After scoring single runs in both the sixth and seventh, FIU got two more in the eighth to cut the Hilltopper lead in half at 12-6. However, Cregar hit his second homer of the game in the bottom of the eight to push the lead to 14-8 before Adam Balcom shut the door in the ninth to secure the victory in the opener.
In addition to Cregar’s big offensive day, Dayleg also collected a pair of hits, while Bracken drove in two. Mollica finished with three hits to lead the FIU offense in the opener.
Carter (3-3) earned the win as he allowed three runs on six hits and struck out three in 5.2 innings. Golden Panther starter Chris Allen (2-4) suffered the loss allowing eight runs — only three of which were earned — in 3.2 innings of work.
The Toppers wasted little time jumping in front in game two as they scored four times in the first two innings on just two hits. After Matt Hightower reached on a one-out error in the first and Cregar drew a walk, Wade Gaynor hit an opposite-field home run to right to give WKU a 3-0 lead on its first hit of the game. A leadoff walk to J.B. Paxson in the second was followed by a Bracken bunt single to get the Toppers in business once again. After a groundout moved both runners into scoring position, Paxson game in to score the fourth Topper run of the game when Scott Kaskie grounded to shortstop.
WKU broke things open in the middle three innings, scoring seven of their runs in the third, fourth and fifth. The Toppers did all their damage with two outs in the fourth as Kaskie tripled home Matt Payton, then scored on a Hightower double to stretch the lead to 6-0. The Toppers followed that up with a five-hitting inning in the fifth as Dayleg and Payton each singled in a run, and Kaskie drove in two with a single as the lead grew to 10-0.
Cregar took over the sixth inning as he led off the inning with his third home run of the day to stretch the lead to 11 runs, then blasted his second grand slam of the day in the seventh over the scoreboard in right center. Hightower then doubled home two runs in the eighth to cap of the 17-run outing for WKU.
Lost in the offensive outburst was the pitching performance of Matt Ridings, who improved to 6-1 on the season as he threw his first complete game of the year. Ridings allowed just one run on four hits, striking out nine FIU batters.
WKU finished with a season-high 20 hits in the finale, with Gaynor leading the way going 4-for-5 with three RBI. Kaskie also drove home four, while Cregar and Hightower posted five and three RBI, respectively.
The Hilltoppers will go for the series sweep on Sunday as they conclude the series with Florida International. First pitch is schedule for noon (CDT).