Lafayette, La. — After going nearly 48 hours without playing a game in the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Tournament, the Western Kentucky University baseball team picked up right where they left off on the opening day of the tournament, remaining undefeated and in the winner’s bracket with a 10-4 win over top-seeded Louisiana-Monroe Friday afternoon at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
With the win, the Hilltoppers (31-24) will advance to the bracket finals Saturday at 12:30 p.m. (CDT). ULM (34-23) will face Florida Atlantic tonight at 8:30 p.m. in an elimination game, with the winner of that contest facing the Hilltoppers. WKU would need to win just one game tomorrow to advance to the championship game.
The day off didn’t cool off the Hilltopper bats, as they pounded out 18 hits off Warhawk pitching. WKU was able to jump in front early once again as a sacrifice fly by Jake Wells in the second inning chased home Chad Cregar from third with the game’s first run.
With one out in the third, back-to-back singles by Matt Hightower and Terrence Dayleg put runners at the corners. Cregar then singled to left to drive in Hightower and make it a 2-0 game. On the play, ULM left fielder Dexter Fontenot misplayed the ball, then committed a second error on the play when his throw to third skipped away, along the runners to move to second an third. That proved big for WKU as Wade Gaynor followed with a run-scoring groundout to give the Toppers a three-run lead.
A big two-out rally in the fourth allowed WKU to extend its lead, as Scott Kaskie started a string of five straight singles. After Hightower reached to put runners at the corners, Terrence Dayleg, Cregar and Gaynor all drove in runs with hits to stretch the lead to 6-0.
Freshman starter Rye Davis (3-5) had all the support he needed after that, as he make the longest outing of his short Hilltopper career, going 6.2 innings, allowing just four hits and striking out four. Jon Prevost finally got ULM on the board in the sixth with a solo home run — the first run allowed by WKU pitching in the tournament — to cut the lead to 6-1.
However, the Toppers came right back with another two-out rally in the bottom of the inning. After Hightower singled and stole second, Cregar drove in his third run of the game with a single. After another Gaynor single, Rice and Matt Bracken each drove in runs with base hits to push the WKU advantage to 9-1.
The Warhawks put together their first threat in the eighth inning, loading the bases with one out against reliever Colby Beach. Kyle Suire then singled home two with single to cut the Topper lead to 9-3. After Beach struck out Fontenot for the second out, A.J. Siggers singled up the middle to drive in Ben Soignier with the fourth ULM run of the game. However, Beach was able to retire Ryan McMillan to end the threat and keep it a 9-4 game.
The Toppers added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning when Jake Wells delivered the teams 23rd triple of the season — breaking the school record of 22 set by the 1980 Hilltoppers — with two outs in the inning. Matt Payton then delivered an RBI single to drive home Wells with the 10th run of the game. Bryce Jenney came in and slammed the door — striking out the side in the top of the ninth — to close out the six-run win for the Toppers.
Offensively, the two through six hitters in the lineup accounted for 14 of the 18 hits. Hightower, Dayleg, Cregar and Gaynor each finished with three hits, while Rice collected a pair of singles. Cregar also finished with a game-high three RBI, with Gaynor driving in a pair. Prevost and Soignier each had two hits for ULM.