BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Junior righthander Matt Ridings quieted the hot-hitting Florida Atlantic (24-17, 7-12 SBC) bats and allowed the Hilltoppers to capitalized on scoring chances throughout the game as Western Kentucky University (29-12, 15-5 SBC) claimed an 8-3 decision on Saturday afternoon before 1,171 fans at Nick Denes Field.
In the game televised on CSS, WKU bounced back from a tough 3-1 loss last night, which ended their school record 16-game home winning streak, to even the series heading into Sunday's finale. The Hilltoppers maintain their one-game lead in the loss column over Middle Tennessee and Troy for first-place in the Sun Belt Conference standings.
The Hilltoppers capitalized on seven walks and two hit batters by Owl pitchers, as well as two FAU errors, to push across four unearned runs. Conversely, Ridings and reliever JB Paxson did not walk or hit a batter and the Sun Belt's best defense committed just one miscue, the team's first error in four games.
WKU struck first as Matt Hightower led off the second inning with a single back up the middle. He then stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch, setting up Jake Wells' RBI groundout to shortstop against a drawn-in infield. Wells had his current team-best hitting streak of 10 games snapped with an 0-for-4 performance, but did drive in the game's first run. Hightower, who pitched 6.2 quality innings in Friday night's game, went 3-for-4 with a game-high four RBI.
After scoring in the third on a Florida Atlantic error, Kes Carter smacked an RBI triple down the right field line, plating Jared Andreoli who drew a lead-off walk to make it 3-0. WKU had its lead-off batter reach base in seven of eight innings.
Trailing 4-0 in the sixth, Florida Atlantic scratched across their first run on a sacrifice fly from Travis Orza. The Owls made it interesting in the seventh with an RBI double to left field by Nick Criaris followed by a single to center off the bat of Troy Bubley, plating Criaris, to draw within 4-3. But Matt Payton made a diving stop on a David Wilson ground ball to end the inning and prevent the game tying run from scoring.
Criaris finished 3-for-4 for Florida Atlantic while Tom Hatcher and Colby Gratton added 2-for-4 afternoons.
Hightower singled up the middle with one out in the home half of the seventh to make it a 5-3 game and then it was the senior from Cartersville, Ga. that delivered another two-out single back up the middle with the bases loaded in the eighth to drive in two more and break the game open 8-3.
Ridings (6-1) scattered nine hits over 7.0 innings, allowing three runs, two earned, striking out three and not walking a batter in recording the win. Paxson (2) picked up the save after tossing 2.0 innings of scoreless, two-hit relief.
Mike Gipson (2-4) held the Toppers to only three hits over 5.0 innings, but walked three and hit two as WKU pushed across four runs, three of which were earned. Gipson did strike out three in the loss.
WKU will go for its 11th-straight weekend series win at home on Sunday when the Toppers and Florida Atlantic play the rubber game at 1:00 PM CT at Nick Denes Field. It would be the Hilltoppers' eighth-straight home Sun Belt series win.