Bowling Green, Ky. — The Western Kentucky University baseball team held off a late Arkansas State rally to pick up a 7-6 win over the Indians Saturday at Nick Denes Field.
WKU has now taken the first two games of the series as it improved to 22-16 overall and 9-8 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Indians dropped to 16-23 and 5-12 in the league.
For the second straight game, the Hilltoppers jumped on the board first with a pair of runs in the second inning. The bottom of the order set the table, loading the bases with one out against Indian starter Jacob Maggard. Matt Payton then drove a sacrifice fly deep to right that plated Matt Rice with the game’s first run. Scott Kaskie followed with a single that brought home Matt Bracken to give WKU an early 2-0 lead. WKU was able to extend its lead an inning later when Wade Gaynor doubled with two outs in the third, then came around to score on a Rice single to make it a 3-0 game.
That lead was short-lived, however, as ASU came right back to tie the game in the top of the fourth. After a leadoff double by Guy Brown, he was able to move to third on a sacrifice bunt and score on a Murray Watts single for the first Indian run of the afternoon. With two outs in the inning, A.J. Prickel — who had not recorded a hit on the season — homered to left off WKU starter Matt Ridings to pull ASU even at 3-3.
The Toppers came right back in the bottom of the inning with three more runs of their own. After Kaskie was hit by the pitch with one out in the inning, Terrence Dayleg singled to put runners at the corners. Matt Hightower then singled home Kaskie to move WKU back in front. ASU reliever Jordan Kimball was able to strike out Chad Cregar, but a passed ball allowed Cregar to reach and Dayleg to score to stretch the lead to two runs. A Gaynor groundout then plated Hightower to move WKU back in front 6-3.
The Indians got another run in the sixth when a Derrick Coleman double plated Watts, but the Topper lead stayed at two runs until the eight. In that inning, a one-out double by Watts brought the tying run to the plate, and with two outs a single by Prickel made it a one-run game. On the play, a throwing error allowed Prickel to advance to third. However, Evan Teague got Jett Jones to ground out as Payton threw him out at first on a close play to reserve the one-run lead.
Jack Wells then led off the bottom of the eighth with his first home run of the season into the bullpen in right to again give WKU a two-run advantage. That proved big as the Indians threatened once again in the ninth off reliever Adam Balcom. With one out in the inning, Brandon Eller was hit by a pitch and Lawson Hipps singled to put the tying run on base. After a fielder’s choice off the bat of Brown for the second out, Ryan Hudgins singled home a run to again make it a one-run game. However, Balcom got Cody Pace to line out to Wells at first to end the game and earn his first save of the season.
Offensively, Rice and Bracken both finished with two hits. Watts and Brown each had three hits for the Indians.
Ridings (7-2) earned the win as he went six innings, allowing four runs on nine hits and striking out seven. Maggard (3-4) took the loss as he allowed four runs in 3.1 innings.
The Hilltoppers will go for the sweep on Sunday as they conclude the series with a 1 p.m. (CDT) game.