Boca Raton, Fla. — Both Florida Atlantic and the Western Kentucky University baseball team combined for 18 runs in the first four inning, but unfortunately for the Hilltoppers 12 of those runs were scored by the Owls. FAU used three big innings to pull ahead and pick up a 12-6 win over the Toppers Friday night in the opener of a three-game Sun Belt Conference series at FAU Stadium.
The loss dropped the Hilltoppers to 23-18 and ended a four-game conference win streak as they fell to 10-9 in the league. The Owls moved to 24-16 and 10-7 in the league.
The Hilltoppers wasted little time getting on the board against FAU starter Mickey Storey in the first inning as both Wade Gaynor and Terrence Dayleg hit solo home runs to give WKU an early 2-0 lead.
The Owls came right back in the second inning as they strung together four straight one-out singles to drive in two runs and tie the game at 2-2. Sean Bukovich followed with a safety squeeze that plated David Wilson to move FAU in front 3-2. However, Chad Cregar pulled WKU back even in the top of the third as he hit his 16th home run of the season off the scoreboard in right.
FAU broke the game open an inning later, loading the bases with two outs thanks to an infield single. WKU starter Bart Carter then walked Wilson to force home Jeremy Griffiths with the go-ahead run. Travis Ozga followed with a grand slam over the wall in left-center to put the Owls in front 8-3.
The long ball helped bring the Hilltoppers back in the fourth as Matt Payton hit a three-run shot — the first of his career — to pull WKU back within two at 8-6. However, the Owls came right back with four more runs — giving them 12 in a three-inning stretch — to double up the Toppers at 12-6.
During the 12-run outburst, the sixth through ninth batters in the order accounted for 11 of the RBI.
After all the offense in the first half of the game, the contest became a pitcher’s duel as both teams were held scoreless over the final five innings.
After giving up the six early runs, Storey (3-4) settled in to go 8.0 innings, allowing nine hits and striking out a season-high 10. Carter (4-4) suffered the loss as he allowed 12 runs on 10 hits in 4.2 innings, but relievers Ben Paxton and Bryce Jenney combined to blank the Owls on two hits in the final 3.1 innings, striking out five.
Offensively, Cregar and Jake Wells each collected two hits, while Payton drove in a team-high three runs with his fourth-inning blast. Silversmith paced the Owls’ 12 hit attack with three hits, while Wilson and Ozga finished with three and two hits, respectively. Ozga also drove in a game-high five runs.
The Hilltoppers and Owls continue their series on Saturday with a 3 p.m. (CDT) schedule first pitch. The finale of the three-game set is slated for noon on Sunday.