Lafayette, La. — The Western Kentucky University baseball team pounded out eight hits in the first two innings, jumping on Florida Atlantic early as the Hilltoppers shutout the Owls 9-0 Wednesday morning at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field in the opening game of the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
With the victory, WKU advances in the winner’s bracket to play Louisiana-Monroe at 7:30 p.m. (CDT) on Thursday.
The Hilltopper offense was able to stake starter Matt Ridings to a big lead early, plating five runs in the top of the first inning. After Scott Kaskie drew a leadoff walk, Matt Hightower was hit by a Jeff Beliveau pitch. After a double steal, a Terrence Dayleg single plated the first run and a Chad Cregar groundout brought home Hightower to make it a 2-0 game. After a Wade Gaynor single put runners at the corners, Matt Rice singled home Cregar with the third run of the inning. Jake Wells capped off the frame with a two-out, two-run double as WKU quickly opened up a 5-0 lead.
The offense continued in the second, as four straight one-out singles — including run-scoring hits from Cregar and Gaynor — brought home two more runs and ended the day for Beliveau. Rice then reached on a fielder’s choice to bring home Cregar to stretch the lead to 8-0.
After FAU reliever Brandon Kloess blanked the Toppers in the third, Cregar led off the top of the fourth with his 20th home run of the season to push the lead to 9-0. With the blast, Cregar became the first Hilltopper since 1985 to reach 20 homers. In that season, Rob Tomberlin hit a school-record 27 long balls, while John Clem added 23 and Mike Roy hit 21.
That would be the last run of the game for the Toppers as Brandon Kloess shut out them out over the final five innings. However, Ridings went 7.0 innings, allowing just four hits and striking out seven. Adam Balcom kept FAU off the board in the final two innings to give WKU it first Sun Belt Conference Tournament shutout win since a 6-0 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in 1999. Ridings improved to 10-2 with the victory, making him just the fourth Hilltopper hurler ever to record double-figure victories in a season.
Offensively, Wells led the 14-hit attack going 3-for-5 with two RBI. Hightower, Dayleg, Cregar and Gaynor each had two hits, with Cregar driving in a game-high three runs to push his RBI total for the season to 75 — just four shy of the school record.