MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Hilltopper senior Steve Hodgins was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth inning on Saturday, bringing in the eventual game-winning run as the WKU baseball team picked up a 3-2 win over rival Middle Tennessee to complete the series and the season sweep of the Blue Raiders in the 2013 regular season finale. The win marked the first time in the WKU-Middle Tennessee series that either of the teams have picked up six wins in one season over the other, as the Hilltoppers went a perfect 6-0 against the Blue Raiders in 2013.
The three-game conference series sweep to close out the regular season is the first for the WKU baseball team since the 1987 season, and marked the fourth consecutive year that the Hilltoppers have closed the regular season by winning their series. WKU is now 15-4 in its last 19 games against Middle Tennessee, including winning six out of the last seven series over the Blue Raiders.
The Hilltoppers will be the fifth seed in the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Tournament after the three-game sweep, and will either play Florida Atlantic or Louisiana-Lafayette in its opening game on Wednesday. If the Hilltoppers play Florida Atlantic, it will mark the fifth time in the last six years that WKU and the Owls have met in the first game of the conference tournament. If Louisiana-Lafayette loses its game against ULM Saturday night, WKU will play the Ragin’ Cajuns. If Louisiana-Lafayette wins, WKU will play FAU.
WKU slugger Ryan Huck continued his hot-hitting against Middle Tennessee, as he moved into the top 10 in WKU history for career home runs, as the senior blasted his 32nd career home run, and his 15th of the season in the top of the first inning. The home run was a two-run shot, giving Huck six home runs this season against Middle Tennessee pitching, including three home runs against Saturday starter Hunter Adkins. Huck’s 32 career home runs are just two away from tying former Hilltopper Matt Rice for eighth all-time in WKU history in career home runs.
Huck finished his day with two hits, marking his eighth consecutive multi-hit game, and extended his career-long hitting streak to 11 games. For the season, the senior slugger is now hitting a team-high .372, with 15 home runs and 53 RBI.
Middle Tennessee would score one run in the first inning, but would be held scoreless until the bottom of the seventh, as the Blue Raiders tacked on one run to tie the game at two, but stranded the bases loaded in the seventh as Brennan Pearson got a fly out to get the Hilltoppers out of the inning.
That escape job by Pearson would prove vital for WKU, as the ninth-inning RBI hit-by-pitch from Hodgins brought in the eventual game-winning run for the 3-2 win.
Hilltopper starter Austin Clay went a career-high 6.2 innings, allowing just two runs on five hits in his sixth start of the 2013 season. Of Clay’s six starts this season, the sophomore has allowed two earned runs or less in five of the six starts.
WKU reliever Taylor Haydel would come in to close the door and pick up his first win of the 2013 season, working 1.1 innings, striking out a pair in his 96th career appearance in a Hilltopper uniform. With one more appearance, Haydel would move into second place all-time in WKU history for career appearances.
The Hilltoppers will now travel to Lafayette, La., for the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Tournament beginning on Wednesday. The tournament appearance is the 15th-straight for WKU, as the Hilltoppers have won at least one game in five out of the last six conference tournaments. The tournament was last held in Lafayette in 2008, with the Hilltoppers winning the tournament title that season.
Tournament pairings and game information will be posted at WKUSports.com once they are officially announced by the Sun Belt Conference.