LEXINGTON, Ky. (WBKO) --- For the first time since May 16, 2015, WKU Softball defeated a ranked team as the Hilltoppers went to No. 17 Kentucky on Tuesday and claimed a 4-1 victory over the Wildcats. All the scoring in the midweek tilt came off of home runs as the Hilltoppers saw Paige Carter, Jordan Thomas and Shannon Plese connect for long balls in the top of the fifth inning. The Red and White have now won eight-straight games dating back to March 13.
“I think our mindset was right from the very beginning,” head coach Amy Tudor opened. “As we prepared on Monday, we talked about what we were going to do and how we were going to come out and have full effort. Obviously Kentucky is a very good softball team and is still a very good softball team but today we brought the bigger bats and were stronger in the circle not to mention playing great defense behind our staff.”
WKU Softball improved to 23-5 on the season with Tuesday’s win at Kentucky. The Wildcats have now lost four-straight games and moved to 21-11 with the loss.
Senior Jordan Vorbrink registered the first hit of the day for either dugout as she dropped a single just inside the left foul line before advancing to second on a fielding mishap by the Wildcats in the top of the second. Rebekah Engelhardt followed with a walk but both Hilltoppers would end up stranded.
In the bottom of the third, centerfielder Plese denied the Wildcats of their first hit of the day with a sliding catch to snag a liner heading towards the right-center gap. UK would break into the hit column before WKU got back to the dugout with a pair of singles for two of its three hits.
An inning later, the Wildcats drew first blood in the pitchers’ duel in the form of a solo home run to left field. The first of four combined balls to leave John Cropp Stadium – the home run was Kentucky’s last hit of the game.
Looking to get the run back, the Hilltoppers suffered two quick outs in the top of the fifth before WKU’s nine-hole hitter, Carter stepped into the box. With a 2-0 count on her, Carter connected for her first home run of the season to straight-away center, tying the game at 1-1. Turning over to the top of the lineup, Jordan Thomas followed her teammate’s lead and connected for her third homer of the season. The leadoff’s dinger left the field in left-center field. After Maddie Bowlds drew a five-pitch walk, Shannon Plese stepped into the box and turned on a 1-2 pitch for WKU’s third home run of the inning, giving the Hilltoppers a 4-1 lead.
“Jordan Vorbrink got us started with that first hit of the game and then Paige Carter got us going again with that home run,” Coach Tudor shared of the Hilltoppers’ hitting. “Jordan Thomas and Shannon Plese kept things going with their own home runs. Three of our four hits were big hits and those were game changers for us. I thought they made adjustments throughout the game and anyone in our lineup can hit and that should give our pitching staff a lot of confidence as it does all of us coaches.”
The back-to-back dingers from Carter and Thomas was the first occurrence of the sort this season. The last time WKU had back-to-back home runs was April 21, 2018 in a Conference USA matchup against Marshall when Brittany Vaughn and Kelsey McGuffin achieved the feat.
Three home runs is a season-best for the Hilltopper squad as 3-of-4 of WKU’s hits Tuesday evening were longballs.
Shelby Nunn took over in the circle after Kelsey Aikey exited in line for the win. Aikey allowed just one run on three hits with three walks and three strikeouts in 4.0 innings of worked against the high-powered Wildcat offense. Nunn continued to quiet the Kentucky lineup, allowing zero hits and two walks while striking out two over the game’s final 3.0 innings.
“Kelsey Aikey threw a heck of a ball game,” Tudor continued. “She one hit that ended up being one run for Kentucky while allowing just three hits total, and that’s pretty good going through their lineup. They have great hitters and I thought Aikey did a great job of managing all of her pitches. Then when Nunn came in, she did just as good of a job. We kept them off the bases and didn’t let their big hitter beat us.”
Aikey improved to 6-3 in the circle on the season with the victory over the in-state SEC foe. Nunn’s performance qualified her for her third save of the season.
Since 2000, WKU Softball has played 11 different SEC squads. The Hilltoppers have gone 19-44 up against SEC opposition with Tuesday’s victory. Under Coach Tudor’s reign, the 2014-2019 squads have gone head to head with seven of the SEC programs, putting together a record of 6-11. In 2014 the Red and White took down No. 2 Tennessee on the Volunteers’ home turf; Tudor’s second game coaching for WKU against an SEC school. Over the 2017 opening weekend, WKU Softball headed to Starkville, Miss., and took down the host Bulldogs in a 1-0 decision. WKU dropped decisions to No. 8 LSU and No. 18 Kentucky in 2018 along with No. 17 Auburn during its opening weekend of the 2019 campaign.
The Hilltoppers are now 9-15 all-time against Kentucky and improved to 5-8 when playing in Lexington. WKU’s win snapped a 10-game skid against the Wildcats and was the Tops’ first win at Kentucky since April 5, 2007.