Ryan Huck did it with his bat, Brennan Pearson did it with his arm and Western Kentucky did it the right way Friday night, starting Sun Belt Conference play with a 6-5 win over Middle Tennessee at Nick Denes Field.
Huck blasted two home runs and Pearson worked four scoreless innings in relief for WKU (8-9, 1-0 SBC).
“It’s not just me, it’s a rivalry for the school itself,” said Pearson, a Murfreesboro, Tenn., native and Siegel High School product. “It was one of the games you get amped up for more than any other on the schedule because it’s your rival. The juices started flowing and things went our way tonight.”
Huck’s second home run of the night gave the Hilltoppers a 5-4 lead, but Jordan Cessna’s pinch-hit, RBI single in the eighth proved to be the game-winner.
The Blue Raiders (11-7, 0-1 SBC) put runners at first and second with nobody out in the ninth against WKU pitcher Taylor Haydel.
Johnny Thomas moved the runners up with a bunt, and Trent Miller cut the score to 6-5 with a sacrifice fly to right.
With two outs, Michael Adkins finally lifted the 10th pitch of his at-bat softly out to right to end the game with Hank LaRue stranded at third.
The Tops got the win after trailing 4-0 after 3 1/2. They also won their 24th straight when leading after seven innings.
“Huge. It’s real big to get a comeback win,” Huck said. “Any win you can get, especially to open up conference like that, getting that first win in conference is always the biggest one. Hopefully we can build on top of that and get a couple more this weekend.”
Things didn’t start as well as they ended for the home team.
Middle took the lead in the first when LaRue singled up the middle with one out and Miller drove him in with two outs on a slicing double to right center.
The Raiders broke it open in the fourth, loading the bases with nobody out for Robert Lawrence. Lawrence hit a sharp comebacker that WKU starter Tanner Perkins tried to backhand but knocked away instead.
Trailing 2-0, Perkins got a strikeout looking, but then allowed a two-run single to left off the bat of Ryan Ford to make it 4-0.
The Hilltoppers came back in the fourth with a leadoff double from Devin Kelly into the left-center gap. Huck then crushed a 2-2 pitch deep out to left center to make it 4-2.
“It was just a two-strike approach trying to put the ball in play, hit it hard somewhere,” Huck said. “(Kelly) did a great job getting on, had a good AB in front of me. After that I was able to square one up and put us on the board.”
Perkins allowed his 11th hit of the night – a bunt single – to load the bases with nobody out in the fifth and was lifted for Pearson.
Pearson got Jake Ellison swinging on strikes, then Lawrence grounded into a 5-3 double play to escape any damage.
“As a relief pitcher, you get thrown in the fire sometimes and your job is to work out of it and that’s what they put me there for,” Pearson said. “One of those deals where everything just fell into place – double-play ball – you don’t really plan on doing that, but it’s one of those things, it’s the game of baseball and you get a groundball double play, that’s the beauty of it.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Wilcox walked and Kelly singled one out later. That brought Huck to the plate and the senior went opposite field, carrying one out over the right field fence and under the scoreboard.
“I got a lot of it, but once again, it wouldn’t happen if we didn’t get guys on in front of me,” Huck said. “When they get on, that’s a 5-4 ballgame instead of a 4-2 (MTSU) win.”
Pearson allowed the first runners to reach again in the sixth, but got a strikeout and a 4-6-3 double play. The sophomore allowed two hits in four innings and struck out a career-high six.
Haydel was credited with his second save of the season.
Middle Tennessee starter Hunter Adkins went six innings, allowed five earned runs on five hits, walked three and struck out one.
The Raiders finished with 14 hits and left nine on base.
The two teams will play a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. today. No game will be played Sunday as previously scheduled due to the threat of inclement weather.