Bowling Green, Ky. (WBKO) --- WKU Baseball played its second-longest game over the past 15 seasons, with junior Kevin Lambert coming up lining a two-out, walk-off single in the bottom of the 14th inning to lead the Hilltoppers past Old Dominion by a score of 8-7. It was the career-high fourth hit of the night for the shortstop, as right fielder Jake Sanford crossed home with the game-winning run.
With the team's sixth walk-off win this season at Nick Denes Field, WKU improved to 25-26-1 overall and 16-12-1 in Conference USA play. The Hilltoppers are a full 1.5 games ahead of the fifth-place Monarchs (15-14) in the standings and trail third-place Louisiana Tech (17-12) by a half a game going into the season's final day.
After allowing 35 runs over the previous two games and seven more over the first four innings on Friday night, the WKU bullpen fired 10-straight zeroes to cap the game. Lefty Dalton Shoemake kept Old Dominion off the board for four frames, senior righty Jacob Green followed with five hitless outs, then righty Bailey Sutton finished it off with 4.1 scoreless innings. The three relievers combined to allow only eight baserunners while striking out 11 Monarchs from innings 5-thru-14.
Led by Lambert's 4-for-7 night, the Hilltopper lineup got at least one hit from 10 different players for a total of 16 for the game. First baseman Jack Wilson went 2-for-7 with his first-career homerun and tied a career-high with four runs batted in. The Elizabethtown native had a two-run single in the second, then lined a two-run dinger opposite field into the left-field bullpen on an 0-2 pitch in the fourth; he became the 10th different player to hit a long ball for the club this season.
Wilson's hits early on helped WKU respond with three runs in the bottom of the second after Old Dominion scored three in the top half, and WKU put up two runs in the bottom of the fourth after Monarch freshman left fielder Andy Garriola had hit a grand slam in the top half of that frame.
With the game at a 7-5 score in favor of the visitors, it stayed that way until the bottom of the eighth. With the bases loaded and two outs, senior second baseman Nick Brunson walked to score catcher Collin Hopkins and cut the Hilltopper deficit to 7-6. In the ninth, left fielder Ray Zuberer III was hit by an 0-2 pitch to lead off the inning and eventually scored the game-tying run on a two-out, RBI single by freshman center fielder Jackson Swiney.
WKU had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the 10th, but Lambert was thrown out at home plate by Garriola as he was trying to score from second base on a ground-ball single by Brunson to left field. Old Dominion's best chance came in the top of the 14th — getting pinch runner Cory Alexander II to second base with one out — but back-to-back charging plays by Brunson and Lambert ended the frame and set up the excitement that would follow about six minutes later.
Sanford led off the bottom of the 14th with an infield single on a chopper over the pitcher's mound, then designated hitter Aidan Elias bunted him to second base. After the Monarchs decided to intentionally walk the earlier hero Swiney, Hopkins popped out just beyond the visitor's dugout for the second out. In an aggressive baserunning decision by Sanford, he tagged up and slid in safe at third base as Swiney moved up to second.
Lambert stepped into the box against Old Dominion righty Ryne Moore and slapped the first pitch he saw into left-center field. Sanford crossed home plate and the mob of Hilltoppers erupted from the third-base dugout to congratulate the Tampa, Fla., native in the infield at 9:19 p.m. with a full moon hung in the sky beyond the outfield wall.
WKU improved to 17-8-1 at Nick Denes field overall and 10-3-1 in C-USA games, 9-6 on Friday's, 9-8 when wearing red USA caps, 9-3 in one-run games, 6-1 in walk-off wins, 3-1 in extra-innings, 17-4 when out-hitting the opponent, 20-14-1 when allowing one or zero homeruns, 24-6-1 when scoring five-plus runs and 24-14 when allowing fewer than 10 runs.
The Hilltoppers are 7-0 when their bullpen does not allow an earned run. In all seven of those games, a reliever has earned the win. Of WKU's 25 victories this season, 14 have been of the comeback variety overall and nine have been in C-USA games, with the team overcoming at least a two-run deficit in each contest.
The longest game by the Hilltoppers since 2005 was their 3-2 victory vs. Kentucky at Bowling Green Ballpark on April 23, 2013, when outfielder Trevor Lowe hit a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 18th inning. There have been eight 16-plus inning games in Division I in 2019, including a 21-inning, 21-15 win by Penn at Dartmouth on April 6.
Sanford went 2-for-7 for his 26th multi-hit performance of the season in 52 games; his current slash line stands at .408/.490/.840. Swiney went 2-for-6 with a walk, notching his 11th multi-hit game and improving his season slash line to .264/.345/.443 in his debut year on The Hill. Lambert's four-knock game pushed his batting average to a season-high .275 (since it was at .333 on Feb. 17 after three games) and marked his 17th multi-hit effort of the year after producing 16 total in his first two seasons.
Wilson made his first start at first base since April 23 vs. Kentucky, recording 20 put-outs and had a pair of assists. The 20 put-outs are the most by a WKU fielder since at least 2005 (when game-by-game records are available). The junior became the 14th player in Division I in 2019 to have 22-plus chances without an error.
Sutton recorded his sixth victory in relief, improving to 6-1 on the season with a team-best 3.26 earned run average in 38.2 innings pitched. His six victories have all come in C-USA games, which leads the league in that regard. The Louisville native has a 1.84 earned run average with 38 strikeouts in 29.1 innings across 16 appearances since March 16, which was his first appearance in C-USA action.
WKU and Old Dominion will face off in Game 3 of the series on Saturday, May 18 with a 1 p.m. first pitch at Nick Denes Field. It will be senior righties Joe Filosa and Morgan Maguire as opposing starting pitchers for the rubber match. With a win and a LA Tech loss, the Hilltoppers would be the No. 3 seed in the 2019 Conference USA Tournament. With a win and a LA Tech win, WKU would be the No. 4 seed, and with a loss to the Monarchs, the Hilltoppers would be the No. 4 seed regardless of the Bulldogs' decision at FIU.