BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Western Kentucky University sophomore right-hander Austin Clay allowed just one run on three hits in six innings to lead the Hilltoppers in a 4-2 victory over Middle Tennessee in the series opener Thursday night at Nick Denes Field.
WKU (23-30, 12-16 Sun Belt Conference) tallied single runs in the first and second innings to take the early lead and after Middle Tennessee (28-26, 13-15) cut the advantage to 2-1, added runs in the fifth and sixth to hold on for its fifth straight win over the Blue Raiders at Nick Denes Field.
Clay (4-4) did not issue a walk or record a strikeout as he matched a career-best with six innings pitched. The Owensboro, Ky., native faced the minimum through three innings and then retired the side in order in the fourth and sixth innings.
“He competed so well for us,” WKU coach Matt Myers said. “The big thing for him was he had a sinking fastball and he threw it early in the zone and got a lot of contact early. He didn’t walk anybody and was very, very efficient. I thought it was as good of an outing as he’s had all year for us, when we really needed it.”
Junior right-hander Taylor Haydel gave up just one run on two hits over the final three innings to earn his third save of the year. Haydel struck out five and retired the first eight batters he faced.
Blue Raiders starter Johnny Cooper (2-3) allowed two runs on three hits with four walks and two strikeouts in 1-2/3 innings.
Four different Hilltopper hitters drove in runs in the game, including an RBI single by right fielder Ryan Hutchison and a run-scoring double by third baseman Casey Dykes. Designated hitter Blake Crabtree went 1-for-2 with a sacrifice fly and shortstop Scott Wilcox drove in a run on a hit-by-pitch.
Center fielder Jared Andreoli, second baseman Ivan Hartle and catcher Devin Kelly accounted for the other hits. Hartle was on base three times as he drew walks in each of his first two plate apperances.
WKU got on the board with a run in the bottom of the first inning behind an RBI single by Hutchison.
The Hilltoppers extended their lead to 2-0 in the second when Wilcox was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
In the top of the fifth inning, Blue Raiders left fielder Jordan Rorex cut he advantage to 2-1 with a sacrifice fly to right.
WKU got an RBI double by Dykes in the bottom of the fifth to make the score 3-1.
The Hilltoppers added a run in the bottom of the sixth behind a sacrifice fly off the bat of Crabtree.
MTSU pushed a run across in the top of the ninth on an RBI single by third baseman Hank LaRue to make it 4-2.
The two teams return to action in the second game of the series at 6 p.m. Friday night. WKU junior left-hander Tim Bado (4-6, 4.24 ERA) will get the start for the Hilltoppers while MTSU will start junior right-hander Hunter Adkins (5-6, 5.40).