Jake Sanford's 18th Homerun Propels Toppers To Triumph Over Owls

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Bowling Green, Ky. (WBKO) --- WKU Baseball evened its series against Conference USA-leading Florida Atlantic on Saturday afternoon, claiming an 11-4 victory over the Owls. The Hilltoppers bounced back after dropping Game 1 by a score of 8-5, which the teams played to a conclusion at 1 p.m. after it was originally halted on Friday due to rain.

With the decisions, WKU now has an 18-18-1 overall record and 9-7-1 mark in league action, while Florida Atlantic has a 26-12 overall tally and 13-4 record in league play.

Right fielder Jake Sanford hit a pair of three-run homeruns on the day — one in Game 1 to tie the game at 4-4 in the fifth, then a second in Game 2 to give the Hilltoppers a 6-0 lead in the second frame — to push his season total to 18 dingers and 55 runs batted in.

Game 1
On Friday, starter Reece Calvert gave up three runs in the top of the first on three hits and one walk, but rebounded to allow only one unearned run over the next three frames. With a steady mist the entire way — and a downpour at times during the third and fourth innings — Calvert was able to rack up five strikeouts compared to only two strikeouts. The righty from Plano, Texas, threw 42-of-71 pitches for strikes in his first game action since March 31 vs. Charlotte.

WKU got on the board in the fourth, when Sanford chopped an infield single and then scored on a double into the right-field corner by catcher Matt Phipps. After freshman center fielder Jackson Swiney was hit by a pitch and both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch from Owls' starter Blake Sanderson, third baseman Sam McElreath faced an 0-1 count.

McElreath fouled off Sanderson's second delivery, but the bat flew out of his hands in the rainy conditions and home plate umpire Jordan Ferrell decided the conditions to be unplayable. After further assessing the weather situation, it was determined no more baseball would be played on Friday, and the game would reconvene at 1 p.m. on Saturday, frozen in the current situation.

Florida Atlantic brought in lefty Dylan O'Connell to begin the continued game, and he proceeded to fire strike three to a swinging McElreath to begin play on Saturday and strand both Hilltoppers to keep it a 4-1 advantage for the visitors through four complete innings.

After WKU lefty Dalton Shoemake fired a scoreless top of the fifth, O'Connell got into some self-inflicted trouble in the bottom half of the frame. He hit left fielder Ray Zuberer III and first baseman Jack Wilson with pitches leading up to Sanford, who proceeded to smack a 1-2 pitch over the left-field fence for the game-tying homerun, his 17th of the year.

But back-to-back Owls reached base off Shoemake to start the next inning, and both ended up scoring as Florida Atlantic retook the lead at 6-4.

Swiney tagged a solo homerun to left-center field on the first pitch of the bottom half of the sixth — his fourth of the season and third in the past two contests — but that was all the WKU offense could muster the rest of the game against righty relievers Michael Schuler and Zach Schneider.

The Owls added their seventh run in the seventh and their eighth run in the eighth to take the 8-5 lead. Schuler pitched three innings — only giving up one run on the Swiney dinger — and Schneider fired a 1-2-3 ninth for his ninth save of the year.

Game 2
Putting forth a strong start when the Hilltoppers needed it most, senior Troy Newell piled up seven strikeouts, while allowing only one base hit and three walks through the first four frames.

Meanwhile, the WKU offense put up a crooked number in the bottom of the second off Florida Atlantic starter Mike Ruff. With the bases loaded and two outs, left fielder Ray Zuberer III drew a seven-pitch walk to bring home one run, then first baseman Jack Wilson lined a two-run single into center field on a 1-2 pitch to make it a 3-0 game. Next up walked right fielder Jake Sanford, who turned on a 91-mile-per-hour, first-pitch fastball and cranked it over the scoreboard in right-center field to make it a six-run inning.

WKU made it a 7-0 lead in the following frame when shortstop Kevin Lambert grounded home catcher Matt Phipps from third base.

The Owls threatened in the top of the fifth with a one-out double and two-out, RBI single off Newell for the visitor's first run of the game. After the lefty then walked back-to-back batters and reached 103 pitches on the afternoon, head coach John Pawlowski pulled him for righty Collin Lollar.

Although Lollar's first pitch was a wild one that allowed a second run to score, catcher Matt Phipps fired to third baseman Sam McElreath to catch the Florida Atlantic trail runner who rounded the base too aggressively for the third out of the inning, holding a five-run, 7-2 WKU lead.

Lollar completed the rest of the game, pitching 4.1 frames of two-run ball — allowing lone tallies in the seventh and eighth innings — to push his season win-loss record to 4-1. He racked up four strikeouts and allowed five hits and only one free pass.

Meanwhile, the Hilltopper offense continued to hit. Designated hitter Dillon Nelson drove home Wilson with an RBI single in the sixth, then a trio of RBI hits by second baseman Nick Brunson, Zuberer and Wilson in the seventh added three more runs to push their total to 11.

Although Florida Atlantic tallied their eighth base hit of the game with one out in the ninth, Lollar was able to induce a 4-6-3 double play to end the game, giving the hosts an 11-4 victory and a split of the day's decisions.

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