Leonett’s extra-inning heroics lift Tops over Owls in series opener
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - WKU Baseball defeated Rice, 5-4, in extra innings to secure the series opener victory on Friday night at Nick Denes Field.
With the win, the Hilltoppers improve to 28-22 (13-12 in C-USA) while the Owls drop to 18-31 (7-18 in C-USA). WKU has now won 11 of its last 13 Conference USA games.
“Our bats went cold, but you have to give credit to that starting pitcher,” said head coach Marc Rardin. “Just incredible, I mean, he is a competitor. The one real truth about baseball is that there is always a home team, and they always get the last three outs. When they score, the game is over. That is the hard thing to know on the road, even when you have a little bit of momentum, that the other team always has three outs to go.”
The Tops jumped in front early with a two-out, RBI single from Lukas Farris to take a 1-0 lead after the first inning. The top half of the lineup cashed in once again just an inning later with an RBI single from Ty Crittenberger. On the same play, an errant throw from the Owls center fielder allowed Brett Blomquist to score from first and extend the lead. Aidan Gilroy immediately followed that up with an RBI triple to give WKU a 4-0 lead after two innings. That would be the end of the Hilltopper scoring in regulation.
The Owls answered in the top of the fifth inning, knocking three RBI doubles, forcing starting LHP Lane Diuguid out of the game. Diuguid finished the day with three strikeouts in 4.2 innings of work allowing three runs on six hits and one walk. A Rice solo home run knotted the game at 4-4 in the top of the sixth inning.
The final three frames of regulation were scoreless, forcing the game into extra innings.
After a one-out single from Tristin Garcia and Kirk Liebert drawing the first walk of the game for WKU in the tenth inning, Ricardo Leonett doubled to right center, scoring Garcia, and ending the game. The walk-off double capped a career game for the senior catcher, finishing the night 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI at the dish and throwing out a runner at second behind the plate.
RHP Mason Burns earned the winning decision on the bump, his fifth of the year. The junior notched one strikeout, pitching just the tenth inning without allowing a run on one hit.
The Hilltoppers will continue their series with Rice beginning at 6 p.m. CT on Saturday, May 13 at Nick Denes Field with Senior Day festivities beginning at 5:25 p.m. CT.
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