BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – WKU nearly overcame a three-run, ninth-inning deficit against Georgia State Saturday at Nick Denes Field but the Hilltoppers (29-26, 15-15) left the tying run 90 feet from home plate as the Panthers (25-31, 11-19) successfully avoided the sweep with a 5-4 win.
Pinch hitting freshman Hunter Wood and senior second baseman Scott Wilcox delivered ninth-inning RBI to shrink Georgia State’s three-run lead to 5-4, but junior first baseman Ryan Church grounded out with two outs and runners on the corners to end WKU’s rally.
Despite the loss, the Hilltoppers knocked Georgia State out of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament with a pair of wins Thursday and Friday. WKU’s 29 regular-season wins are the most since 2011 and its 20 wins at Nick Denes Field this season mark the 14th time in program history that the Hilltoppers have reached the 20-win plateau at their home facility.
Senior Jake Thompson turned in his sixth quality start of the year in his final outing at Nick Denes Field. Thompson scattered five hits and allowed two runs while striking out four over six innings in the no decision. He was locked in a pitchers’ duel with Georgia State’s Andrew Fessler, who matched Thompson’s stat line with six innings of work and two runs allowed.
The Hilltoppers got on the board immediately in the first inning as junior shortstop Cody Wofford led off with a triple. WKU’s 12th three-bagger of the year resulted in a 1-0 lead after Wilcox recorded an RBI groundout to score Wofford.
Georgia State erased WKU’s lead with a two-run third inning courtesy of RBI from shortstop Chad Prain and right fielder Chase Raffield. With a 2-1 advantage, Fessler cruised through innings three through six before giving up a solo home run to WKU senior Regan Flaherty in the seventh.
Flaherty’s third homer of the year tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh and represented WKU’s 11th leadoff home run this season. Junior reliever Tate Glasscock pitched well behind Thompson to get things into the eighth inning, striking out two and not allowing a hit in 1.1 innings.
Junior Brandon Allen struck out Georgia State’s Matt Rose to end the eighth inning, giving WKU a chance to take the lead in the bottom half. With the score tied at 2-2 Church and sophomore outfielder Anderson Miller hit back-to-back two-out singles to put runners on the corners. Both were left on, however, as Flaherty grounded out to end the Hilltoppers’ threat.
Allen walked Georgia State designated hitter Jody Stone to start the ninth and Ryan Blanton replaced him on the base paths as a pinch runner. He bounced back with a strikeout to put one out on the board before being replaced by freshman Sam Higgs.
Higgs ran into trouble at the bottom of the Panthers order, giving up a hit and a walk to load the bases for Prain. Prain capitalized on his opportunity and cleared the bases with a three-run double to put Georgia State in front for good at 5-2.
Junior designated hitter Philip Diedrick and freshman pinch hitter Hunter Wood smacked back-to-back one-out singles to put the Hilltoppers in a threatening position during the ninth. Wood’s single through the right side scored senior outfielder David Simmons, who previously walked in the frame.
With the deficit within reach at 5-3, Wofford was beaned by Georgia State closer Kevin Burgee to load the bases. That set the stage for Wilcox, who delivered his second RBI of the game with a warning track fly ball to score Diedrick. Sophomore Trevor Lowe pinch ran for Hunter Wood and advanced to third on Wilcox’s fly ball, but he was stranded at third while representing the tying run to end the game.
Georgia State reliever Ben Burns earned the decision and improved to 5-1 on the season while Burgee picked up his eighth save. Allen took the loss for WKU to drop to 1-4.
Flaherty finished with two hits for the third-straight game as he finished the series 6-of-11 with five RBI. Miller upped his average to .326 with another multi-hit performance, his 18th of 2014. As a team, WKU finished with nine hits for the 21st time in the past 25 games. The Hilltoppers finished the series with 34 hits, marking the seventh time in 10 league series that they finished with more than 30 hits.
WKU will be the No. 5 seed in next week’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament and will face No. 4 seed Texas State on Wednesday at Stanky Field in Mobile, Ala. First pitch time has yet to be determined as the league will release the tournament bracket later this evening after the conclusion of today’s conference games.
For more information on WKU Baseball, follow the team on Twitter at @WKUBaseball or visit WKUSports.com.