Bowling Green, Ky. — The Western Kentucky University baseball team battled back from a 9-2 deficit to get within a run with the bases loaded the ninth inning, but Louisiana was able to get out of the jam and hold on for a 9-8 win Friday night at Nick Denes Field in the series opener of a three-game Sun Belt Conference series.
The loss dropped the Hilltoppers to 25-23 and 12-13 in the Sun Belt Conference, while the Ragin’ Cajuns improved to 25-25 and 13-12 in the league.
Trailing 9-2 after the four innings, the Hilltopper bullpen shut the door the rest of the way as they limited UL to just one hit over the final 5.2 innings. Down seven runs, the Toppers were able to get a pair of two-run homers from Scott Kaskie and Chad Cregar in the bottom of the sixth off Cajun starter Hunter Moody to cut the deficit down to three runs.
After a pair of scoreless frames, WKU took advantage of a Cajun error to put runners at the corners with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Drew Morgan then reached on a fielder’s choice to score Matt Bracken, and on the play all hands were safe on the fifth UL error of the game to bring the potential winning run to the plate. Kaskie was able to reach on an infield single to load the bases, and one out later Wade Gaynor was hit by a pitch to force in a run and make it a 9-8 game. However, reliever Justin Robichaux — how earned his ninth save of the season with two innings of relief — got Cregar to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
The Cajuns broke the game open early on, sending nine men to the plate and scoring five runs in the top of the third, right after WKU had taken an early 1-0 lead on a Morgan two-out single in the bottom of the second. UL quickly put the go-ahead run in scoring position in the third when Blaine LaFleur singled and Brian Bowman double. LaFleur then came in on a Matt Goulas groundout to tie the game. After back-to-back walks loaded the bases, three straight singles drove in four runs to make it a 5-1 game.
A Terrence Dayleg RBI single in the bottom of the inning drove home Wade Gaynor to make it a 5-2 game, and also extended his hitting streak to 14 games. However, in the top of the fourth, Louisiana loaded the bases with one out for Robichaux who hit a grand slam — his first homer of the season — into the right-field bullpen to give the Cajuns a 9-2 lead.
That hit proved big as the a trio of relievers held the Cajuns at bay the rest of the way. Adam Balcom relieved WKU starter Matt Hightower in the fourth inning, and went on to throw 2.2 innings of hitless relief. Colby Beach threw a hitless 1.1 frames, and Ben Paxton allowed just a ninth-inning hit in 1.2 innings of scoreless work.
Moody (8-2) earned the win for the Cajuns as he worked seven innings, allowing five earned runs on 10 hits and striking out five. Hightower (3-5) suffered the loss for WKU.
Offensively, the Toppers outhit the Cajuns 12-11, with Kaskie picking up a game-high three hits. Cregar, Jeremy Coleman and Morgan each finished with a pair of hits. Robichaux was one of five Cajuns with two hits, as he picked up a game-high four RBI with the grand slam.
The teams continue their weekend series on Saturday with a 3 p.m. (CDT) first pitch. The series finale is slated for noon on Sunday.