ARLINGTON, Texas – WKU took a 3-2 lead over Texas Arlington into the bottom of the eighth inning Friday night, but the Mavericks (25-25, 14-11) plated three runs in the frame to come back and drop the Hilltoppers (27-23, 13-12) 5-3 in the series opener.
WKU right handed pitcher Justin Hageman was strong through seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits to put himself and the Hilltoppers in line for the win. Hageman ran into trouble during the eighth, however, giving up two hits and three runs to a powerful Mavericks lineup that handed him his first loss since March 14.
The Hilltopper bats were hot early as they pounded out eight hits and scored three runs off of Texas Arlington’s ace Daniel Milliman in 4.2 innings. The Mavericks’ bullpen was stellar behind Milliman, however, stifling WKU to one hit after the fifth inning. Zach Hobbs and Jacob Moreland combined to toss 4.1 innings of scoreless relief for Texas Arlington and retired 12 of the last 13 Hilltoppers they faced. Moreland picked up the win after two perfect innings to improve to 2-2 on the year.
Texas Arlington struck its first blow in the third inning when left fielder Ryan Bottger smacked a solo home run to left field to put the Mavericks in front, 1-0. WKU answered immediately in the top of the fourth inning, with RBI from senior center fielder David Simmons and junior catcher Ryan Messex. Simmons poked a single through the left side to score junior shortstop Cody Wofford, who led off the inning with a double. Simmons then stole second and advanced to third on a balk to set the stage for Messex’s sac fly that gave WKU its first lead at 2-1.
Wofford extended WKU’s advantage to 3-1 in the fifth with a sac fly of his own, scoring senior right fielder Regan Flaherty. That would be it for the Hilltopper offense, however, as freshman third baseman Leiff Clarkson was the only player to reach base for WKU over the final four innings.
Texas Arlington began chipping away at WKU’s lead in the bottom of the fifth, using another RBI from Bottger to trim the Hilltopper advantage to 3-2. Catcher Greg McCall provided the decisive blow later in the eighth inning, blasting a two-run double into centerfield to push the Mavericks back in front 4-3. WKU freshman Sam Higgs relieved Hageman after McCall’s double and set down the Mavs in order, but not before they tacked on an insurance run courtesy Darien McLemore’s sac fly.
Trailing 5-3 in the ninth inning it was up to the bottom of the Hilltoppers’ lineup to provide the heroics, but Moreland retired the WKU side in order to preserve the win. The loss dropped the Hilltoppers to 13-12 and to fifth place in the Sun Belt Conference standings while the Mavericks improved to 14-11 and gained sole possession of fourth place.
WKU aims to even the series and the league standings tomorrow as they battle Texas Arlington at 2:00 p.m. (CT). The Hilltoppers will send Josh Bartley (5-3, 4.04 ERA) to the mound to face Mavericks’ righty Brad Vachon (3-5, 5.93 ERA). For more information on WKU Baseball, follow the team on Twitter at @WKUBaseball or visit WKUSports.com.