Bowling Green, Ky. (WBKO) --- WKU Softball’s seniors went out in style as redshirt-senior Shannon Plese delivered a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth to give the Hilltoppers am 11-3 walk-off win over UTSA on Sunday. Plese was the second senior to homer in the game as Kelsey McGuffin connected for a leadoff homer in the bottom of the second in the Red and White’s final game from the WKU Softball Complex in 2019.
“I’m so proud of all of our seniors today and Kelsey Aikey had a great day on the mound,” head coach Amy Tudor opened. “Who doesn’t want to go out on their home field with two bombs and one to walk it off? The seniors are all special people and all a special part of our program and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
With the series sweep of UTSA, WKU closed the regular season with a 37-12 overall record and program-best 18-6 mark in Conference USA play. After being predicted to finish seventh in the league’s Preseason Coaches Poll, WKU claimed the East Division title outright and will own the No. 3 seed in next week’s Conference USA Tournament at UAB. UTSA is now 20-30 on the season and 8-16 in league play. The Roadrunners earned the eight seed into next week’s C-USA Tournament.
Maddie Bowlds registered her third-straight multi-hit game with a 2-for-4 showing. She was joined by Jordan Thomas with multiple hits as her fellow sophomore went 2-for-3 including a two-out double in the bottom of the fifth for the first of three-straight Hilltopper hits to walk it off.
Kelsey Aikey tossed her second complete-game win of the series and finished with a line of 5.0 innings pitched, five hits, two runs, two walks and eight strikeouts. In her 12 innings of work against the Roadrunners this weekend, the junior struck out 21 combined batters. She’s now 14-8 in the circle on the season while racking up 174 strikeouts to lead C-USA through the regular season.
For the first time in the series, WKU kept the visitors off the scoreboard in the opening frame despite the Roadrunners notching two of their five hits in the inning. Aikey registered strikeouts for the second and third outs to get WKU back to the dugout as the team would open its scoring in the bottom of the first for the third-straight game.
“We stopped focusing on everyone else and just played our best ball,” Plese shared. “We got our best swings off, played our best defense and played for eachother and the result was exactly what we wanted it to be.”
Thomas led things off with a single before advancing to third as Bowlds reached on a throwing error. After Bowlds stole second, Plese drew a walk to load the bases. Two batters later, Jordan Vorbrink opened the scoring with an RBI walk. Kennedy Sullivan kept it going with an RBI single back up the middle for a 2-0 WKU lead.
After Aikey’s third punchout of the game, Plese and McGuffin handled a pair of lineouts to the outfield to get the Hilltoppers back on offense. McGuffin would go on to lead off the second with her third home run of the season and push WKU’s advantage to 3-0. Thomas followed with a walk and moved to second on a single by Bowlds. With one away, Smith sent a chopper towards the Roadrunners’ first baseman and would end up reaching safely as the throw home went wide allowing Thomas and Bowlds to come in to score.
With the score already at 5-0 in favor of the hosts, Vorbrink and Sullivan drew back-to-back walks to force a UTSA pitching change. First to face the new thrower, Rebekah Engelhardt sent a sacrifice fly to deep right field, allowing Smith to score. Morgan McElroy added an RBI single to centerfield and after another UTSA error ultimately saw two runners score on the play for an 8-0 lead.
UTSA would avoid the shutout after a leadoff single in the top of the third. The Roadrunner would end up scoring on a sacrifice fly before Aikey added another called strikeout.
Both dugouts would go scoreless over the next three half innings before UTSA connected for a solo home run in the top of the fifth for its final tally, bringing the score to 8-2.
After two outs in the span of five pitches to open the bottom of the fifth, the top of WKU’s order made their presence felt at the plate. Thomas worked a full count before sending her 10th double of the season to the left-center gap. Bowlds followed with a single up the middle that put runners on the corners. With a 2-0 count on her, Plese connected for a no-doubter towards the parking structure to bring everyone home and give WKU its fourth walk-off win of the season.
“I was pretty happy about it,” Plese said of her walk-off homer. “I knew it was probably going to come down to me and I was pretty excited I got that pitch because I knew as soon as I saw it what was going to happen.”
“It was very special seeing so many contributions by our class today,” McGuffin added. “I’ve been with two of them all four years, one for the last two years and then Shannon we’ve gotten to have this year. It’s special, the bond we have. Everyone came from different backgrounds and families but all as a unit we love each other and play for each other.”
Next game: WKU will head to Birmingham, Ala., next week for the 2019 Conference USA Tournament hosted by UAB. As the No. 3 seed, WKU will play a single-elimination game on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. CT against the winner of UTEP and Middle Tennessee. With a win, the team would advance into the double-elimination portion of the bracket.