Bowling Green, Ky. — The Western Kentucky University baseball team got clutch hitting, and a solid relief effort from Rye Davis to even its weekend series with Middle Tennessee at a game apiece with a 6-5 win over the Blue Raiders Friday evening at Nick Denes Field.
The win improved the Hilltoppers to 28-24 and 15-14 in the Sun Belt Conference, while MTSU fell to 27-26-1 and 13-15 in the league. The teams will play the rubber match of the series as they close out the regular season at 3 p.m. (CDT) tomorrow. The game will be televised regionally on CSS. Prior to the game, WKU will hold a ceremony to honor its four seniors.
The two clubs put up most of their offense in the early inning before the pitching took over from the fifth inning on. With the game tied 5-5 in the bottom of the sixth, Matt Rice hit his second home run in as many days as he hit a solo shot off reliever Tyler Hyde to put WKU in front 6-5.
Davis (2-5) entered the game an inning earlier, and was dominant once WKU took the lead. In his final three innings of work, he limited the Blue Raiders to just one hit, and tied a career high with seven strikeouts. In fact, Davis stuck out the final six batters of the game — four of them looking — to seal the victory.
Both teams opened up their scoring with three-run innings in second. The Blue Raiders — who had the leadoff hitter on base in each of the first six innings — got an RBI single from Blake McDade to drive in the game’s first run. WKU starter Matt Hightower was able to get Nathan Hines to ground into a double play, but Zach Hudson scored on the play to make it a 2-0 game. Zach Barrett then followed with a run-scoring double to plate the third run of the inning.
WKU came right back in the bottom of the inning, however, as a Jake Wells groundout plated Wade Gaynor to make it a 3-1 game. Jeremy Coleman followed with a single, then stole second and moved to third on an error. A Matt Payton sacrifice fly then brought him home to cut the Blue Raider lead to one. Rice followed with a double, and scored on a two-out Scott Kaskie single to tie things up at 3-3.
MTSU came back with a run in the third when a Hudson sacrifice fly chased home Rawley Bishop, but the Toppers came back with two in the bottom of the inning to take their first lead of the evening. After a Terrence Dayleg leadoff single, Wade Gaynor came to the plate with one out. Blue Raider starter Jordan Alvis was called for a balk on a location, but Gaynor offered at the delivery and sent it over the wall in left center for his 12th home run of the year to put WKU in front 5-4. The lead was short-lived, however, as MTSU got a leadoff double from Taylor Dennis in the fourth, and he eventually came in to score on a Hightower wild pitch to again even things up at 5-5 before Rice delivered with the home run for the final run of the evening.
WKU finished with 12 hits on the night, with Rice collecting a game-high three hits. Dayleg, Gaynor and Coleman each finished with two hits. Hudson finished with three hits to pace the Blue Raiders.