Monroe, La. — Western Kentucky University freshman starter Matt Ridings threw his second straight complete game, and struck out a career-high 10 batters as the Hilltopper baseball team evened its Sun Belt Conference weekend series at Louisiana-Monroe with an 8-5 victory over the Warhawks Saturday evening.
The teams will play the rubber match of the series Sunday (April 22) at 1 p.m. (CDT) at Warhawk Field.
“Matt was just outstanding again tonight. He continues to pick us up on Saturdays in league play,” said Hilltopper head coach Chris Finwood. “This was just a solid ballgame for us. These guys just keep fighting, and we came through with some big hits tonight when we needed them.”
For the second straight night, the Hilltoppers (16-20, 8-9 Sun Belt) used a five-run inning early in the game to jump out to a lead. This time, they sent 11 men to the plate in the third to score five times and answer a four-run inning by ULM (24-17, 12-7 SBC) in the bottom of the second. The first three WKU batters of the inning reached as Matt Payton and Scott Kaskie drew walks from Warhawk starter Keith Christiensen, and Terrence Dayleg was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Casey Hamilton then singled home a run, and a one-out walk to Scotty Colt forced home Kaskie with the second run of the inning. A sacrifice fly by Wade Gaynor brought home the third run of the inning to tie the game at 4-4. Jack Ambrose put WKU back in front with an RBI single, and Payton capped off the inning with a run-scoring single to put WKU in front 6-4.
The Toppers were able to put first run of the board up early as Kaskie led off the game by reaching on a three-base error, and scored on a Hamilton groundout for an early 1-0 lead. However, the Warhawks answered in the bottom of the second when A.J. Siggers singled home Dexter Fontenot to tie the game. With two outs in the inning, Josh Morrison hit a three-run home run to right-center to put ULM up 4-1 before the five-run inning by WKU.
The Warhawks scored their last run off Ridings in the fourth when Siggers tripled off the wall in center, and scored on a sacrifice fly from Ben Soignier to cut the WKU lead to 6-5.
The Toppers were able to get to the ULM bullpen early as Christensen (3-3) lasted just 2.2 innings, allowing six runs (five earned) on two hits, but walked five batters in his short start. A.J. Ford came out of the bullpen and held the WKU bats quiet as he finished the game, throwing 6.2 innings, allowing five hits and striking out eight. The only runs Ford allowed came in the fifth when J.B. Paxson hit his first home run as a Hilltoppers — a two-run shot to right — that put WKU in front 8-5.
After surrendering the run in the fourth, Ridings (5-1) allowed just two hits the rest of the game as he retired 17 of the final 20 batters he faced. His career-best 10 strikeouts were the most by a Hilltopper pitcher since Grady Hinchman fanned 11 UALR batters on April 2, 2005. He is also the first Topper to throw back-to-back complete games since Ryan Bicondoa during the 2002 campaign.
Offensively, Payton led the Hilltoppers with two hits, while Paxson and Hamilton finished with two RBI. Morrison recorded two hits and three RBI for Louisiana-Monroe.