BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – WKU battled back from two different two-run deficits and was tied 5-5 with UALR entering the ninth inning but an error, walk and wild pitch from the Hilltopper defense resulted in two Trojan runs in the final frame as UALR evened the series with a 7-5 win Saturday at Nick Denes Field.
The Hilltoppers (22-21, 10-10 SBC) held a brief lead at 5-4 through six innings but the Trojans (18-23, 6-14) scored three unanswered runs to win their first Sun Belt Conference road game of the season. Junior reliever Brennan Pearson took his first loss of the season for WKU after surrendering UALR’s go-ahead run in the ninth.
UALR set the tone early, using a two-run homer from third baseman Tanner Rockwell in the first inning to jump in front 2-0. Rockwell also picked up his fourth save of the year with a strikeout in the ninth. WKU junior first baseman Ryan Church answered Rockwell’s bomb with one of his own in the bottom half of the first, pulling Sam Thoele’s 0-1 pitch over the left field fence to bring the Hilltoppers within 2-1.
After the Trojans extend their lead to 3-1 in the third via Bryson Thionnet’s sac fly, Church homered again to bring WKU back within a run at 3-2. Church’s two home runs marked his second multi-home run game of the season as he now leads WKU with seven on the year. Five of Church’s seven homers have come with two outs on the board. He finished his day 3-of-4 with two RBI and two runs scored.
Sophomore Josh Bartley labored through five innings but continually got out of jams, leaving five Trojans on base. Bartley struck out three, walked five and surrendered four runs on 107 pitches.
UALR went ahead 4-2 in the fifth inning with an RBI groundout from designated hitter Joseph Paulino, but WKU again had an answer for the Trojans. Sophomore Anderson Miller ripped a bases-loaded, two-run single up the middle to tie the game at 4-4 in the fifth, scoring freshman third baseman Leiff Clarkson and senior outfielder Regan Flaherty.
Junior Ryan Messex pinch hit in the sixth inning and smacked a single deep in the left center gap. Messex took a wide turn when rounding first base and baited the Trojan defense into a run down play, which allowed senior outfielder David Simmons to score from third and put WKU in front 5-4.
The Hilltoppers’ lead was short-lived, as UALR used another RBI from Paulino to knot the contest at 5-5 in the seventh. WKU had a chance to take a lead into the ninth inning after designated hitter Philip Diedrick led off the eighth with his eighth double of the year. Freshman Paul Murray pinch ran for Diedrick, but he was stranded 90-feet from home plate after the Hilltopers grounded out twice and struck out swinging.
First baseman Justin Steelmon started UALR’s two-run ninth with a double and advanced to third on an outfield error by the Hilltoppers. With the go-ahead run at third and no outs, WKU called on closer Ian Tompkins to get out of the jam. UALR came through with a timely hit from Thionnet, who punched a single to left and came around to score later off a wild pitch to give the Trojans a two-run cushion in the bottom half.
Senior second baseman Scott Wilcox singled with one out in the ninth to give WKU two chances with the potential tying run at the plate, but Church grounded out and Miller struck out to end the game. Jesse Harbin earned the win for the Trojans after tossing 1.1 innings and surrendering just one hit.
WKU finished the game with 10 hits, marking the 24th time this season the Hilltoppers have had at least 10 hits in a game. Church was the lone Hilltopper with multiple hits, tying his career high with three hits.
WKU and UALR will play for the series Sunday at Nick Denes Field, with first pitch time set for 1 p.m. Sunday is Fun Day as kids 12 and under receiver FREE admission and can run the bases following the game. Also on Sunday, Big Red’s Rascals will take over the ballpark. Members of Big Red’s Rascals will be assisting WKU Athletics in game operations ranging from ticket taking, announcing batters and helping with on field preparations.
For tickets and more information on WKU Baseball, call 1-800-5 BIGRED or visit WKUSports.com.