LAFAYETTE, La. - Arkansas State plated nine runs from the fourth inning through the sixth inning, and that deficit would prove to be too much for the Hilltoppers to overcome, as the WKU baseball team fell to Arkansas State 10-4 on Thursday in an elimination game at the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament. The loss will end WKU’s season, while Arkansas State will advance to play at 3:00 PM (CT) on Friday.
Arkansas State would take advantage of three WKU errors on the day, including a pair that led to the Red Wolves’ biggest inning in their four-run fourth.
The Hilltopper pitching staff would strike out seven batters on the day, giving the team 479 strikeouts on the season, which ties a school record for strikeouts in a single season. The 2013 mark tied the mark set by the 2008 team. WKU entered the Sun Belt Conference Tournament ranked ninth nationally in strikeouts per game, while ranking first in the nation through the first two weeks of the 2013 season. Since Matt Myers has been on the WKU staff, WKU has put together four of the top six team strikeout performances in school history.
Hilltopper first baseman Ryan Huck picked up an eighth-inning single to extend his career-long hitting streak to 13 games, as he hit safely in every game in the month of May. The senior slugger put together one of the more memorable seasons in WKU history, as he leaves in sole possession of ninth place in career home runs at WKU, as Huck blasted 33 home runs during his four-year career on the year. The first team all-conference selection was recently named a semifinalist for the Gregg Olson Award, given annually to the national “Breakout Player of the Year.” Huck finished his senior season with 16 home runs, 56 RBI, while hitting .367 and sporting a slugging percentage of .694.
Steve Hodgins and Ryan Messex led the Hilltoppers with two hits apiece on Thursday, as Hodgins wrapped up his career on the Hill with 12 multi-hit games in his senior campaign, and was one of three Hilltoppers to hit over .300 in 2013, joining junior Scott Wilcox and Huck.
Leading 1-0 in the fourth, Arkansas State would take advantage of a pair of WKU errors, plating four runs in the inning, which was capped off by a single and an error, which allowed Arkansas State batter Dustin Jones to come all the way around to score, as the single and error ended up plating three runs to up the lead to 5-0 through four innings.
Trailing 7-0 in the sixth, WKU would pick up its first run of the day on an RBI-groundout from Scott Wilcox, scoring Blake Crabtree who walked to open the inning.
Arkansas State would then score for the third consecutive inning, tacking on three runs in the bottom of the sixth off of four hits, increasing its lead to 10-1 through six innings.
The Hilltoppers wouldn’t go quietly, however, as WKU would tack on three runs on four hits in the seventh inning, as the Hilltoppers would send eight batters to the plate in the inning, capped off by a two-RBI single from Steve Hodgins to cut the lead to 10-4.
Arkansas State would then lean on reliever John Koch to come in and close the door, as Koch worked the final 2.2 innings for the Red Wolves, allowing no runs on three hits in relief of starter Bradley Wallace. Wallace went 6.1 innings, allowing four runs on five hits.
Hilltopper starter Andrew Edwards would work 4.2 innings allowing five earned runs, while the Hilltopper trio of Austin Clay, Josh Bartley and Ian Tompkins came in to work 3.2 innings, allowing three runs. Bartley, the true freshman, would strike out three of the seven batters he faced.
The Hilltoppers will end their 2013 season at 28-29, which included a 16-14 mark in Sun Belt Conference play. The mark in league play gave WKU a .500 or better record in six out of the last seven years. The berth in the tournament was also WKU’s 15th consecutive tournament appearance. The Hilltoppers knocked off three ranked teams in 2013, which marked the first time since 2005 that a WKU team has accomplished that feat. WKU went 3-1 against in-state rivals Kentucky and Louisville, while winning six games over rival Middle Tennessee in one season for the first time in school history.
The Hilltoppers will bid farewell to seven seniors, as Tim Bado, Blake Crabtree Taylor Haydel, Steve Hodgins, Ryan Huck, Devin Kelly and Adam Lavelle all played in their final game in a WKU uniform on Thursday. Hodgins, Huck and Kelly each picked up hits on Thursday, while Hilltopper reliever Taylor Haydel leaves the Hill ranking second in WKU history with 97 career appearances. Haydel finishes his four-year career with 170 strikeouts, which was just eight away from breaking into the top 10 in WKU history. Haydel also had seven saves in 2013, which ranked him fourth all-time for saves in a single-season in WKU history.