Lafayette, La. — Three member of the Western Kentucky University baseball team received all-Sun Belt Conference honors Tuesday night in advance of the 2008 SBC Tournament. Junior designated hitter Chad Cregar — who was also named the league’s Newcomer of the Year — was named to the first team, while sophomore starting pitcher Matt Ridings and sophomore third baseman Wade Gaynor took second-team honors.
Cregar has put together one of the best offensive seasons in recent WKU history in his first year on the Hill after transferring from Northwest Mississippi Community College. He currently leads the Sun Belt in home runs with 19, and ranks second in the league with 72 RBI — just two behind Florida Atlantic’s Mike McKenna, who was named the conference Player of the Year. His home-run total stands tied for sixth on the WKU single-season list, and his 72 RBI are the fifth most ever in a season by a Hilltopper. He enters postseason play just seven RBI shy of Mike William’s record of 79 set during the 1980 season. A .345 hitter on the season, Cregar has put together four games this season with two home runs, and had one of the most impressive offensive days ever by a Hilltopper when he finished a doubleheader sweep of Florida International with four home runs (including two grand slams) and 12 RBI. In Sun Belt play, Cregar hit .362 with 11 homers and drove in 42 runs.
While Cregar has been leading the Hilltoppers at the plate, Ridings has been getting it done on the mound for the Toppers as he enters his start in Wednesday’s tournament opener against Florida Atlantic with a 9-2 record, and a 6-2 mark against Sun Belt Conference teams. He is vying to become just the fifth Hilltopper pitcher to ever win double-figure games in a season. He is currently two wins shy of tying Daren Kizziah and Ryan Bicondoa for the single-season record. Ridings — who now has 16 wins in less than two full seasons on the Hill — threw a complete game against Florida International on April 5, and has pitched into the seventh inning in six of his 13 starts. He also recorded a pair of 10-strikeout games to open the conference season at both ULM and South Alabama. Ridings leads all Hilltopper starters with a 4.08 ERA, and his 84 strikeouts are the ninth most in a season at WKU. In 10 starts against Sun Belt Conference teams, he has struck out 64 batters in 63.0 innings, and compiled a 4.43 ERA.
After a solid freshman campaign, Gaynor continued to be a constant in the WKU lineup during his second year on the Hill, starting all 53 games of the regular season. A .338 hitter on the year, he enters postseason play tied with Cregar for the team lead with 77 hits. He has seen 34 of those go for extra bases, including 21 doubles and 12 home runs. His doubles total is tied for seventh on the single-season list, and is just three shy of Chris Turner’s record of 24 set during the 1991 campaign. He also joins Cregar as the only other Hilltopper with double-figure homers on the season. Gaynor raised his average to .376 in Sun Belt games, collecting a team-high 50 hits that included 15 doubles and seven home runs. He also drove in 31 against the league.
The Hilltoppers enter the postseason with a 29-24 record, and finished tied for fifth in the Sun Belt standings with a 16-14 mark. That is the most overall wins, and the highest league finish, for WKU since 2004. The Toppers open tournament play at 9 a.m. (CDT) on Wednesday when they take on FAU in game one of the tournament.