Saturday didn’t end on a high note for the Western Kentucky baseball team, but the overall result was another Sun Belt Conference series win.
The Hilltoppers (16-12, 7-2 Sun Belt) took an 8-6 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in the second game of a doubleheader at Nick Denes Field, following their 3-0 victory earlier in the day that clinched the series.
“The goal of every weekend is to go out and get two wins and win the series,” senior first baseman Ryan Huck said. “We didn’t get the sweep this weekend, but I think we played well, and we’ll keep going from there.”
WKU has won each of its first three conference series this season against Middle Tennessee, Florida International and ULL. It hasn’t lost a three-game series since opening weekend against Bowling Green State.
The Tops remain in first place in the conference standings, ahead of Florida Atlantic at 6-2. The Owls can tie WKU at the top with a win against South Alabama today.
“It’s priceless right now,” WKU coach Matt Myers said. “For four straight weekends, we’ve been going for the sweep on game three, and that’s very difficult to do. It’s a little different every weekend, too. It’s pitching, it’s hitting, it’s resilience, it’s toughness.”
Saturday’s finale got away from the Tops in the top of the fourth inning, when ULL (19-8, 4-5) scored five runs off WKU senior starter Tim Bado.
The Ragin’ Cajuns finished with 14 hits, including 11 off Bado (2-3). The left-hander allowed eight runs – seven earned – and two walks in four innings.
ULL struck first with two RBI singles in the top of the second, but WKU answered with four runs in the bottom of the frame on five hits.
Senior third baseman Blake Crabtree plated Huck and sophomore catcher Ryan Messex with a double, and a double by junior outfielder David Simmons off the left-field wall brought home Crabtree and junior outfielder Jordan Cessna.
“I don’t think we’ve stopped our work ethic, and we’ve demanded a little bit more of an approach with two strikes,” Myers said. “We’ve been expanding at-bats and expanding innings, and we’ve been getting multiple-run innings.”
Ryan Leonards started the third inning with a solo home run for ULL, and the Ragin’ Cajuns scored all five of their runs in the fourth with two outs.
WKU had two hits from the third inning to the bottom of the eighth, when Huck cut the Tops’ deficit to 8-5 with a towering solo homer to left field.
The long ball was Huck’s ninth of the season, which leads the Sun Belt.
“He looks like a player you’d put in a Nintendo game right now,” Myers said. “Having a guy like that makes two or three guys in front and behind that much better.”
WKU loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth but got just one run across when senior designated hitter Devin Kelly reached on a fielder’s choice.
ULL walked Huck intentionally with runners on first and second to again load the bags, and Messex struck out swinging to end the game.
Cody Boutte pitched 7 1/3 innings for the Ragin’ Cajuns to earn the win and improve to 5-1. Junior Justin Hageman and freshman Josh Bartley – a South Warren High School product – tossed five scoreless innings of relief for WKU.
The Tops return to action at 6 p.m. Wednesday at home against Austin Peay.
They’ll likely be without freshman outfielder Anderson Miller, who dislocated his shoulder March 19 at Kentucky and will be re-evaluated Monday, Myers said.
Miller pinch-hit in Wednesday’s win over Evansville, but he’s having trouble throwing and swinging and could be out a “long, long time,” Myers said.
Sophomore reliever Tate Glasscock is dealing with a hip injury.
<\Bz14>WKU 3, Louisiana-Lafayette 0 (Game 1)
The Tops got a complete-game shutout from junior Andrew Edwards to secure a win in the day’s opening contest.
“It was a good feeling to get that win,” Edwards said. “I didn’t expect it, but probably about the fifth or sixth inning, I started to get in my groove and it became a possibility. I think I had 120 pitches or so after eight innings, but why not try to go out and get the win?”
Edwards, a 6-foot-5-inch right-hander, allowed six hits and four walks with eight strikeouts on 136 pitches.
His complete-game win was the first by a WKU pitcher since Hageman did it May 7, 2011, against Florida Atlantic.
It was the first shutout for the Toppers since a 4-0 win over Middle Tennessee on May 19, 2011.
“I didn’t want the pitch count to go that high, but he was as strong in the ninth as he was in the first,” Myers said of Edwards. “He wasn’t under stress at all. He’s a big horse, and that was a phenomenal performance.”
WKU scored first in the bottom of the fourth inning when Crabtree came home on a passed ball.
Junior shortstop Scott Wilcox and junior right fielder Regan Flaherty added RBI singles in the sixth. Austin Robichaux took the loss for ULL.