BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Florida Atlantic (24-16, 7-11 SBC) held the league's best offense to its lowest output of the season in upsetting Western Kentucky University (28-12, 14-5 SBC) 3-1 in the Sun Belt Conference series opener between the two programs on Friday evening at Nick Denes Field. The loss snaps the Hilltoppers' school record 16-game home winning streak and is the first league loss suffered by WKU at the friendly confines in 2009.
Despite the setback, the Toppers remain atop the Sun Belt standings as Middle Tennessee and Troy, each of whom entered tonight one game back of WKU in the loss column, both dropped their openers. FAU extended its current winning streak to a season-best seven games.
The story of the game was the solid pitching performance of the Florida Atlantic staff. Adam Morrison (2-2) came into the game with a 6.16 ERA, but through his 6.2 innings of work, held the potent Toppers to one run on five hits and five walks, striking out four in earning the win. Chris Schmitt tossed 1.1 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief while Glen Troyanowski (6) worked a perfect ninth for his team-best sixth save.
Matt Hightower (5-1) pitched well for the Toppers, scattering 11 hits over 6.2 innings, working out of trouble early and letting up just three runs in suffering his first loss of the season. JB Paxson and Bart Carter shut down the Owls over the final 2.1 innings, facing just one over the minimum.
Both teams threatened early, but failed to score. FAU loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Anthony Mesa grounded into a four-six-three double play as WKU got out of the inning unscathed.
In the bottom of the third, it was the Toppers who had the bases full and one out with their All-American candidate Wade Gaynor at the plate. But Morrison got the junior third baseman to hit into a six-four-three double play to end the threat.
The Owls broke the scoreless tie in the fourth as Troy Bubley singled back up the middle to plate Colby Gratton who led off with a double to left center. Bubley went 3-for-4 on the night with the one RBI while Gratton was 2-for-3.
Still a 1-0 lead for Florida Atlantic in the top of the seventh, designated hitter Tom Hatcher delivered a two-out double to left field off a tiring Hightower, pushing across a pair for a 3-0 advantage. Hatcher finished 2-for-4 with a game-high two RBI.
The Hilltoppers got on the board with a two-out rally in the bottom of the frame as Matt Payton doubled down the right field line, representing the first base hit by WKU off Morrison since Matt Rice led off the fourth inning with a double.
Jeremy Coleman smacked a 3-1 pitch back up the middle to plate Payton and cut the margin to 3-1, but Schmitt came on in relief for the Owls and with one pitch got Gaynor to pop up in foul territory to the catcher to end the inning.
Payton was the lone Hilltopper with a multi-hit night, going 2-for-4 while Coleman had the only RBI. As a team, WKU entered the game hitting a robust .386 in 22 home games, but the top six hitters struggled on the night, going 2-for-19.
WKU and Florida Atlantic will play game two of their three-game weekend series tomorrow at 3:00 PM at Nick Denes Field.