Bowling Green, Ky. (WBKO) --- For the third-straight game against North Texas, WKU Softball saw a Hilltopper connect for a first-inning home run as Kendall Smith gave the Red and White a lead they’d never relinquish before Shannon Plese made it back-to-back homers en route to an 8-0, five-inning, run-rule win over North Texas to clinch the series on Sunday. Kelsey Aikey spun a one-hit shutout while racking up eight strikeouts on the day. Jordan Thomas also delivered a home run, marking her third-straight game with one.
Sunday’s win over the Mean Green secured the Hilltoppers’ fourth series victory of the season as the Red and White improved to 29-9 overall and 12-3 in Conference USA action. North Texas dropped to 26-15 with the loss and 11-4 in league play.
“We set the tone today both in the circle and at the plate,” head coach Amy Tudor opened. “Kelsey Aikey threw it well and we hit it far. This was a big series win for us against a seasoned opponent in North Texas.”
WKU’s bats stayed hot as the Hilltoppers sent seven batters to the plate in the first inning. After two quick outs, Kennedy Sullivan drew a walk before Smith stepped into the box and sent a 2-0 pitch towards the parking structure in left-center field for a 2-0 Hilltopper lead. Four pitches later, Plese sent a no-doubter to straight-away center for a 3-0 WKU lead.
With two outs again in the bottom of the second, Thomas connected with her third home run in as many games against the Mean Green to put the Hilltoppers up 4-0. Back on the dirt, Aikey picked up her fourth and fifth strikeouts of the day in the top of the third before striking out the side between a pair of walks in the fourth. All three punchouts in the frame were called strikeouts as half of the junior’s eight strikeouts were of the looking variety.
After a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fifth, the Hilltoppers went to work to secure the squad’s seventh run-rule win of the season. Paige Carter was the first of eight WKU batters to make a plate appearance in the frame and opened things up with a base hit off the North Texas pitcher. Sullivan followed with a single with both runners moving into scoring position on a throwing error. Smith stepped back into the box and connected with a two-run single to the right-center gap to bring her RBI total to four on the day before Cassidy Blackford would take over on the basepaths for her. Two batters later, Jordan Vorbrink dropped a double into the gap, moving Blackford over to third. Rebekah Engelhardt followed with an RBI-fielder’s choice that saw Blackford slide in safely under the tag at the plate. Another fielder’s choice followed that saw Morgan McElroy reach safely as the Mean Green got its second out with a play at the plate. With a 0-1 count on her, Maddie Bowlds dropped an RBI-base hit in down the leftfield line that allowed Engelhardt to trot home for the game-ending run.
Smith’s two-hit day was her second two-knock game of the weekend and seventh of the season. Her four runs batted in were a career high for the sophomore.
Aikey earned the win in the circle with her third complete-game shutout of the season. With a line of one hit, zero runs, four walks and eight strikeouts, Aikey improved to 9-6 on the season and 5-2 in league play.
The Hilltoppers improved to 14-3 in games at the WKU Softball Complex this season the series-clinching win on Sunday.
“This win today was for my mom, Cat,” Tudor shared. “I want to say thank you to our team and their families for the outpouring of support and prayers over these last couple of days.”
Tudor’s mother was in a car accident Friday afternoon and is currently receiving medical attention in Nashville.
Next game: WKU will hit the road for a doubleheader on Wednesday at Tennessee Tech, marking the first of five-straight games on the road. The team will head to Murfreesboro for a Friday and Saturday series against the Blue Raiders following its midweek action.