BILOXI, Miss. WKU Baseball had waited four years for this game, so what was a few more hours?
In a 2019 Conference USA Tournament contest that started at 10:31 p.m. and ended at 1:46 a.m., the Hilltoppers defeated Old Dominion by a score of 7-4 to advance to the second round and remain in the winner’s portion of the bracket.
With the win, WKU will face No. 1 seed Florida Atlantic for a scheduled 7:30 p.m. start on Wednesday, May 23. The Hilltoppers had the same time slot on Tuesday, but with two of the three prior games going into extra innings, the first pitch was bumped back three hours.
Starter Reece Calvert set down the first two Monarchs of the game but was touched up for a solo homerun off the bat of Vinnie Pasquantino that gave Old Dominion early 1-0 lead, which held until the bottom of the fourth frame.
Monarch starter Nick Pantos hit designated hitter Richard Constantine with the first pitch of the inning, then All-Freshman center fielder Jackson Swiney singled to right field on the first pitch he saw to put a pair of Hilltoppers on base.
Catcher Matt Phipps and third baseman Sam McElreath followed with RBI doubles to give WKU a 2-1 lead, then first baseman Jack Wilson came up with a two-run single to push the advantage to 4-1 and increasing his two-out RBI total to 18 on the season.
The next hitter, left fielder Ray Zuberer III, took a hanging 1-2 changeup from reliever Michael Blanchard over the fence in right-center field for a two-run home run and a 6-1 lead. It was the 10th home run of the Owensboro native’s career on The Hill, including his sixth of the season, five of which have come in the past 14 games.
Apparently not satisfied with Zuberer tying his season total of six long balls, Constantine led off the fifth frame with his seventh dinger of the year. It was a solo shot for the junior from Huntsville, Ala., to push the WKU advantage to 7-1. It was the second dinger of the game against Blanchard, who had not allowed a home run all season coming into the contest.
After blanking Old Dominion from the 2nd-to-5th frames, Calvert allowed a leadoff walk and RBI double to Pasquantino and was pulled for reliever Jacob Green. Although the righty allowed the inherited runner to score on a pair of wild pitches, the Hilltoppers escaped only giving up two runs as their lead stood at 7-3.
Lefty Dalton Shoemake started the seventh frame and gave up a pair of hits — including an RBI double by Bryce Windham to cut the lead to 7-4 — but that’s all the damage the Glasgow native would allow the rest of the game. He set down the final eight Monarchs in order, racking up a career-high six strikeouts in the process for the three-inning save.
After the two-bagger, Shoemake did not allow a ball to leave the infield and struck out the side swinging in the top of the ninth. After two of the previous three games at MGM Park featured blown leads of at least three runs, the lefty mowed down Old Dominion for the second-straight outing to cut any potential late-inning drama from the conversation.