ARLINGTON, Texas – WKU out-hit Texas Arlington 13-12 Saturday afternoon at Clay Gould Ballpark but the Mavericks (26-25, 15-11) strung together eight runs in the early going and the Hilltoppers (27-24, 13-13) couldn’t recover, falling 8-5.
Texas Arlington scored five runs in the top of the first, tacked one on in the third and received a two-run homer from Ryan Bottger in the fourth inning to inflict the necessary damage. WKU freshman southpaw Ryan Thurston was extremely effective behind starter Josh Bartley, working five innings of scoreless relief while allowing just two hits. He has now allowed three earned runs in his last 28 innings pitched.
The loss dropped the Hilltoppers to 13-13 in Sun Belt Conference action and marked the first time they have lost the opening two games of a series this season. The Mavericks moved to 15-11 in league action and have now won nine of their last 11 games.
The Hilltoppers jumped on the board immediately in the first inning as junior first baseman Ryan Church ripped the first of his two doubles to score senior second baseman Scott Wilcox from first. Texas Arlington answered its 1-0 deficit emphatically, however, smacking three doubles that resulted in five runs off Bartley in the bottom half of the first.
Trailing 5-1, WKU began to chip away in the third inning when Wilcox jacked his third home run of the year over the right field fence. Church backed up Wilcox with his second double but was stranded at second to end the Hilltoppers’ third-inning threat.
The Mavericks pushed their lead back to four runs in their half of the third as J.M. Twichell answered Wilcox’s solo homer with one of his own, extending WKU’s deficit to 6-2. Left fielder Ryan Bottger put Texas Arlington in firm control during the fourth inning, blasting a two-run homer to give the Mavericks an 8-2 cushion. Thurston relieved Bartley with no outs in the fourth and got out of a jam by rolling UTA into a double play, the 47th turned by WKU in 2014.
Bartley’s record dipped to 5-4 after he surrendered eight runs in three innings. The sophomore right-hander struck out three and walked one in his shortest start of the season.
Church delivered again in the fifth inning, lining a two-run single up the middle to score freshman third baseman Leiff Clarkson and senior outfielder Regan Flaherty. Church’s hit cut UTA’s lead to 8-4 and gave him 10 multi-RBI performances on the year. Church finished his day 4-of-4 with three RBI and two doubles.
WKU’s deficit stayed at 8-4 until the ninth inning when Flaherty knocked a run-scoring double into the gap to score Clarkson. With the count at 8-5 it was up to Wilcox to keep it alive for WKU, but he lined out to Bottger to end the game.
Church, Flaherty and Clarkson all finished the game with two doubles as WKU pushed its 2014 double total to 109. Flaherty’s 18 doubles rank second in the Sun Belt Conference. Junior shortstop Cody Wofford also finished with a pair of hits, finishing his day 2-of-4.
The Hilltoppers got to UTA starter Brad Vachon for eight hits and four runs, but the right-hander lasted five innings and received plenty of run support from his offense to pick up his fourth win of the season.
WKU looks to avoid the sweep tomorrow at 1 p.m. with senior righty Jake Thompson (4-3, 4.29 ERA) on the mound. Thompson has struck out 16 batters in his last two starts and will duel with UTA’s Zach Thompson (4-4, 5.45 ERA). For more information on WKU Baseball, follow the team on Twitter at @WKUBaseball or visit WKUSports.com.