Bowling Green, Ky. (WBKO) --- For the second time this season, WKU Softball has won 10-straight games after the Hilltoppers clinched their third-consecutive Conference USA series with a Saturday doubleheader sweep of Florida Atlantic. The Red and White’s 8-0 start in C-USA play is the best in program history. With a career-high 11 strikeouts from Kelsey Aikey, WKU cruised to a 10-3 win in game one before Kennedy Sullivan tossed a complete-game shutout in the Hilltoppers’ 2-0 victory to secure the series.
“I like the way that we’re playing right now,” head coach Amy Tudor opened. “We’re competitive, we’re focused and we’re having fun. Anytime we can get wins in Conference USA it’s a good day.”
Across the day, WKU saw the ball well as the squad hit a collective .400 mark while the Hilltopper staff and defense held Florida Atlantic to a .176 batting average. WKU out-hit the Owls 20-9 and owned a 21-5 advantage in batters struck out.
WKU Softball is now 25-5 on the season including its 8-0 mark in league play. The Hilltoppers’ 25-win mark is the best through the first 30 games of a season in program history.
GAME 1: WKU 10, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 3
After Kelsey Aikey picked up three strikeouts to open the day, WKU Softball went to work at the plate. Jordan Thomas led things off with her first of three hits on the day before getting caught in a double play. Shannon Plese reached on an error and came around to score on a double by Kendall Smith for the first run of the day. On the next pitch, Kennedy Sullivan struck for her first of three hits to plate Smith for a 2-0 WKU lead.
Florida Atlantic went down in order in the top of the second before Rebekah Engelhardt opened the bottom of the frame with a solo home run on the first pitch she saw. Two batters later, Jordan Thomas connected with WKU’s second solo homer of the frame, making the score 4-0.
A couple walks and a pair of Owl base hits loaded the bases for Florida Atlantic in the top of the third with one out. Aikey responded with a 13-pitch strikeout before the Owls were able to break into the scoring column with a two-run single to cut the Hilltopper lead back to two.
Plese led off the next inning with a walk before moving to second on an errant pickoff throw by the FAU catcher. Smith connected for her second knock of the game to bring Plese around to score. After Smith stole second, Sullivan deposited her second double of the game down the left line to plate Smith. Jordan Vorbrink followed with an RBI single before moving to second on a wild pitch. Maddie Bowlds kept the action going with an RBI double before scoring on a single by Thomas back up the middle for a 9-2 WKU lead.
Aikey returned to the circle and added three more strikeouts to her count, retiring the Owls in order.
FAU would take advantage of a leadoff double in the top of the fifth as the Owl runner would move to third on a failed pickoff attempt to first base following a walk. During the next at bat, Florida Atlantic executed a double steal to plate its final run of the game. Despite the runners, Aikey registered all three outs in the frame for her ninth, 10th and 11th punchouts of the game.
Shelby Nunn took over in the circle for the final two frames and held FAU scoreless while allowing just one hit. Aikey exited with a final line of 5.0 innings pitched, 11 strikeouts, three walks, three hits and three earned runs. The junior struck out the Florida Atlantic side in three of the five frames she pitched, improving to 7-3 on the season with a 3-0 reading in league play.
Aikey has recorded a win or save in seven of her last eight appearances this season, going 5-0 with two saves in that stretch dating back to game two at FIU.
WKU added its final tally on the scoreboard after Plese led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to the gap. She moved to second on Sullivan’s third hit of the day before advancing to third on a walk by Vorbrink. Engelhardt stepped into the box and sent a 0-2 pitch deep to centerfield, allowing Plese to tag and score on a sacrifice fly.
The Hilltoppers’ 14 hits in the game were two more than their previous season best. Four individuals recorded multi-hit games including Thomas (3-for-4), Smith (2-for-3), Sullivan (3-for-4) and Bowlds (2-for-3).
GAME 2: WKU 2, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 0
In contrast to the day’s opening contest, game two was a pitchers’ duel that saw Sullivan and the Hilltopper squad come out on top to clinch their third-straight Conference USA series win.
WKU struck for a hit in all but the fifth inning, scattering six hits across six at bats in game two. Paige Carter tallied a single in the first before Florida Atlantic rolled another double play to face the minimum in the frame. Despite two hits in the second inning – one from Smith and Vorbrink each – the Hilltoppers stranded two runners.
The Red and White finally broke through in the bottom of the third after Carter and Plese each drew two-out walks and Smith sent a single to the outfield to plate Carter for a 1-0 lead.
Plese’s walk extended her current reached base streak to a team-best 23 games.
Sullivan led off the bottom of the fourth by reaching on an FAU fielding error before Vorbrink moved her into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Engelhardt stepped into the box and connected for an RBI double to score Sullivan for a WKU insurance run.
Vorbrink rounded out the WKU hitting with her second single of the game in the bottom of the sixth for her sixth multi-hit game of the season.
“You have to learn how to win in different ways and different situations,” Tudor continued. “Obviously in game one we hit the ball really well. We squared a lot of balls up and scored early and scored often. In game two, we had to manufacture some runs. I thought we did a really good job putting our bunts down and putting runners in scoring position. Beka and Kendall both stepped up with RBI while Sullivan held it down on the mound.”
Sullivan picked up her fourth complete-game shutout win of the season in the outing. The freshman struck out nine batters while allowing just three walks and five hits. She is now 14-2 in the circle on the year and 4-0 in league play.
NEXT TIME OUT: WKU will close out its weekend series against Florida Atlantic with a 1 p.m. CT tilt on Sunday from The Hill.