LAFAYETTE, La. – WKU Baseball was tied 3-3 with No. 1 Louisiana-Lafayette after its half of the sixth inning but the Cajuns’ Jace Conrad blasted a grand slam in the bottom half of the frame for the game and series deciding blow. Conrad’s four-bagger dropped the Hilltoppers 7-4 on Sunday as the Cajuns claimed the Sun Belt Conference series at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
WKU outscored Louisiana-Lafayette 27-20 in the series, including 14-3 in the opener but the top-ranked Cajuns battled back to take the series with 10-9 and 7-4 victories. Sunday’s loss dropped the Hilltoppers to 14-14 on the season and 4-5 in league play. Louisiana-Lafayette improved to 26-3 and 8-3 in league contests but WKU was able to snap the nation’s longest winning streak of 14 games in Saturday’s game one win.
The Hilltoppers win on Saturday marked the first time WKU had ever beaten the nation’s top-ranked team. WKU finished the series with 39 hits against a Cajuns’ pitching staff that had been allowing six hits a game entering the weekend.
Senior starter Jake Thompson surrendered five hits and three runs through 5.1 innings to allow WKU’s offense to keep pace with the Cajuns. After loading the bases with the score tied at 3-3 in the sixth, junior reliever Brandon Allen took over to try and get WKU out of the jam but the left-handed Conrad pulled a 0-1 changeup over the right field fence. The Hilltoppers got one back via sophomore Anderson Miller’s eighth inning sacrifice fly but Conrad’s bomb was the difference.
Thompson was tagged for his second loss of the year as three of the runs that crossed off Conrad’s shot were credited to him. He finished the game with five strikeouts, five hits allowed and six runs surrendered.
Louisiana-Lafayette drew first blood in the opening frame, as Ryan Leonards came around to score after doubling, advancing on a wild pitch and being driven in by Seth Harrison’s groundout. Harrison put the Cajuns in front 3-0 in the third with a two-run homer over the right field fence.
The Hilltoppers battled back from the three-run deficit with three runs of their own in the fifth inning, which was kick started by sophomore outfielder Trevor Lowe’s leadoff triple. After sophomore third baseman Thomas Peter was plunked for the 13th time of 2014, freshman shortstop Leiff Clarkson put WKU on the board with a sac fly to center. Juniors Ryan Church and Ryan Messex both knocked in two-out RBI later in the frame with back-to-back singles to even the score at 3-3.
Messex finished the game 2-of-3 with an RBI and a double while Lowe also tallied two hits.
WKU had a chance to take its first lead in the fifth with two on and two out following Church and Messex’s hits, but Miller grounded out to first to end the Hilltoppers’ big inning. The game remained knotted at 3-3 until the sixth inning when Conrad smacked his grand slam.
Church and Messex sparked a small WKU rally in the eighth as Church drew a walk and Messex doubled to put runners in scoring position with no outs. Miller drove in his sixth RBI of the series with a sacrifice fly to score Church, trimming the Cajuns’ lead to 7-4. Lowe ripped a single into center and Messex nearly scored from second, but a good throw from Louisiana-Lafayette center fielder Seth Harrison was in time to prevent the WKU run and end the frame.
WKU had one last chance in the ninth but Louisiana-Lafayette reliever Connor Toups retired the bottom of the Hilltoppers order to preserve the win. Toups was credited with the win after 4.1 innings of three-hit relief. WKU was able to knock out Cajuns’ ace Austin Robichaux in three innings Saturday and sent Sunday starter Cody Boutte out after 4.2 innings.
The Hilltoppers open up a five-game home stand at Nick Denes Field as they host Austin Peay Tuesday at 6 p.m. WKU will also host Lipscomb on Wednesday at 4 p.m. before welcoming league foe Arkansas State to Bowling Green for a three-game series. All tickets for WKU’s midweek games are $2 while drinks and select concession items will also be available for $2. For tickets and more information on WKU Baseball, call 1-800-5 BIGRED or visit WKUSports.com.