“The opportunity to play a really good opponent that we have a lot of respect for and to come in here and win on the road is big. That was big to win on the road and it’s always a plus anytime you can win a head-to-head against an in-state rival and a good team like Kentucky.” - WKU baseball coach Matt Myers
LEXINGTON, Ky. - For the fifth time since the 2008 season, the WKU baseball team took down a top-25 opponent, as the Hilltoppers defeated eighth-ranked Kentucky 6-3 Tuesday night in Lexington, Ky. The win was WKU’s fifth over Kentucky in the last six meetings, and gave the Hilltoppers their first win over Kentucky in Lexington since 2010, which also ended in a 6-3 final. The win over a top-10 team was WKU’s third in the last five years, as WKU defeated eighth-ranked Ole Miss in 2009, and fifth-ranked Ole Miss in 2008. The road win over a top-25 team was WKU’s first since a 17-2 win over Vanderbilt in 2010.
“The opportunity to play a really good opponent that we have a lot of respect for and to come in here and win on the road is big,” WKU head coach Matt Myers said. “That was big to win on the road and it’s always a plus anytime you can win a head-to-head against an in-state rival and a good team like Kentucky.”
The key for the Hilltoppers on Tuesday was once again timely hitting, as WKU scored five of its six runs with two outs after having 15 two-out RBI over the weekend against Middle Tennessee.
Ryan Huck was once again the offensive weapon for WKU, as the senior first baseman continued his hot-hitting, going 3-for-5 with four RBI and one home run, giving him 11 RBI and five home runs in his last four games. In fact, over his last 20 at-bats, Huck is currently 14-for-20 with 15 RBI and five home runs.
Huck would give WKU its first lead of the game in the first inning, singling home Thomas Peter with two outs to give WKU a 1-0 lead after Peter walked to open the inning. Following Huck’s single, Lexington, Ky., freshman Anderson Miller delivered a two-RBI single to centerfield, upping WKU’s lead to 3-0 after one inning, with all of the runs coming with two outs. In fact, five of WKU’s six runs came with two outs, giving the Hilltoppers 20 two-out RBI over the last four games.
After Kentucky would scratch across a run in the bottom of the second to make it 3-1, the Hilltoppers would add a pair of insurance runs in the fifth thanks in part to a two-RBI single from Ryan Huck to make it 5-1 WKU. Kentucky would respond scoring one run in the bottom-half of the inning, but would strand two runners in scoring position. In all, Kentucky would strand 15 runners on the night, including leaving the bases loaded in the second inning.
Leading 5-2, Huck would add one more insurance run in the seventh, blasting his seventh home run of the season and his fifth in the last four games to make it 6-2 WKU after seven innings.
Kentucky would make things interesting in the ninth, loading the bases with one out. After bringing in one run on a hit-batter, WKU reliever Taylor Haydel would get a 6-3 double-play to close things out and earn his third save of the season. It also marked the fourth consecutive game that a WKU relief pitcher has earned a save.
Freshman Alex Mercer made his first career start for WKU, working three innings, allowing just one run on three hits, while striking out four. Mercer forced Kentucky to strand six runners through the first three innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the second inning, holding the Wildcats to just one run in the inning.
Fellow freshman Josh Bartley (1-0) went 2.2 innings, allowing one earned run, while striking out one to earn his first career collegiate win. Combined, the two WKU true freshmen worked 5.2 innings against the eighth-ranked team in the nation, allowing just two earned runs.
Sophomore Austin Clay would bridge the gap for WKU, working 2.1 innings, not allowing a run, while giving up just two hits before giving way to Ian Tompkins and Taylor Haydel in the ninth.
The five wins in the last six meetings ties WKU’s best stretch ever against Kentucky, as the Hilltoppers also won five of six against the Wildcats from 2001-03. Over the last 27 meetings between WKU and Kentucky, the Hilltoppers have gone 17-10. WKU’s six runs ties for the most runs a team has scored on Kentucky at home this season, while the Wildcats were held to three or fewer runs for the third time this season, with all three resulting in losses.
The Hilltoppers have now won 29 consecutive games when leading after eight innings, and are now outscoring the opposition 40-7 in the fifth and eighth innings combined. WKU (11-9, 3-0) has now won seven out of its last nine, with both losses during that stretch coming to Tennessee on the road.