LAFAYETTE, La. - The WKU baseball team rallied with four runs in the eighth inning to pull within one in the opening game of the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Wednesday, but Florida Atlantic would hold on, as closer Hugh Adams would come in to close the door and preserve a 5-4 win for Florida Atlantic.
Trailing 5-0 heading to the eighth, the Hilltopper bats would come alive in a big way, as Steve Hodgins would open the inning with a solo home run to make it 5-1. After a walk and a single, Hilltopper slugger Ryan Huck would supply the second long ball of the inning for the Hilltoppers, blasting a three-run homer to pull the Hilltoppers within a run at 5-4. The home run for Huck was his 16th of the season, and gave him 33 for his career. One more home run would tie Huck for eighth all-time in WKU history for career home runs, tying him with former Hilltopper Matt Rice. The home run also gave Huck 11 home runs against Sun Belt pitching this season.
After WKU would pull within one, Florida Atlantic would get a pair of outs in the eighth, then Hugh Adams would come in to notch his 16th save of the season as the Owls picked up the game one win despite a furious late-inning rally from the Hilltoppers.
The one-run game was nothing new for WKU and Florida Atlantic, as this marks the seventh time in eight matchups in tournament play that the Hilltoppers and the Owls have played a one-run game. WKU fell to Florida Atlantic 4-3 in the opening game of the 2012 tournament in Bowling Green last season.
With the loss, the Hilltoppers will now play at 9:00 AM (CT) on Thursday against Arkansas State. The game will be an elimination game in the double-elimination format.
Florida Atlantic would plate four runs in the opening frame on Tuesday, and would then follow that up with a single run in the second inning to open up a 5-0 lead on the Hilltoppers and starting pitcher Justin Hageman early on. Despite the early hole, Hageman would settle in and become dominant down the stretch, allowing just two hits in his final 5.1 innings, not allowing a single run as he finished his day going a season-high 7.1 innings, striking out five, while allowing just three earned runs.
Florida Atlantic starter Austin Gomber was impressive early, as the Hilltoppers collected just one hit on the Owl ace through the first five innings.
Trailing 5-0 in the sixth, WKU would string together three singles and would load the bases for their first scoring opportunity of the day, but Gomber would get a strikeout to end the frame, keeping the Owl lead at five through six innings.
Steve Hodgins would break the shutout in the eighth inning, as the senior second baseman blasted his second home run of the season, a solo shot to pull WKU within 5-1, which was later followed by the Huck home run. Hodgins finished his day with a pair of hits, giving him multiple hits in a game for the 11th time this season. For Huck, the home run extended his career-long hitting streak to 12 games. Hilltopper junior Scott Wilcox also picked up a pair of hits for WKU, as the shortstop made his 116th consecutive start.
The WKU baseball team will now take on Arkansas State on Thursday at 9:00 AM (CT) after the Red Wolves fell to top-seeded Troy 3-2 in their opening game.
The game between WKU and Arkansas State will mark the second all-time meeting between the two programs in the conference tournament, with the last meeting coming in 2002, a game in which the Hilltoppers won 9-8.
Arkansas State took two of three from WKU in 2013 in Jonesboro, picking up a game two win over the Red Wolves in that three-game series. The WKU-Arkansas State series has traditionally been very close, as WKU leads the all-time series 36-35, with neither team winning more than two in a row since 2009.