A weekend later than planned, the Western Kentucky softball team opened its 2021 season with a pair of wins at the Chattanooga Challenge.
The Hilltoppers won their opener 2-1 against Kennesaw State before shutting out the hosts 8-0 in game two.
“I thought we came out with a lot of energy and played with a lot of effort in both games today,” WKU coach Amy Tudor said in a news release. “We manufactured enough runs to get two wins today and played solid defense. Our staff threw well today; throwing a lot of strikes and eliminating walks. I felt that all three pitchers that threw had great command of their pitches. I was proud of our entire team’s efforts today.”
WKU 2, KSU 1
As the home team in the neutral-site contest, the Tops took the field first against Kennesaw State. After the Owls’ leadoff hitter recorded a single, Kelsey Aikey and the Hilltopper defense didn’t allow another hit for 10 batters and KSU finished with just four hits.
WKU struck for both of its runs in the bottom of the fourth as Brylee Hage led things off by reaching on a bunt single before Taylor Sanders reached on a dropped fly ball. From there, TJ Webster dropped one of her three sacrifice bunts on the day to move both teammates into scoring position before Taylor Davis singled to left field for two RBIs.
Kennesaw State tallied its lone run in the top of the fourth on a home run.
Paige Carter went 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles. The multi-hit outing was the 30th of her career at WKU. Davis’ two-RBI game was the third multi-RBI effort of her career.
Aikey went the distance in the circle, recording seven strikeouts against two walks and one earned run. She allowed just four hits in the 28th complete game of her career.
Behind the plate, Kendall Smith threw out the lone runner attempting to steal in the top of the sixth. She’s now caught 29 baserunners attempting to steal during her career.
WKU 8, UTC 0
Scoreless entering the fourth inning against Chattanooga, Smith and Kennedy Sullivan reached base on an error and walk, respectively, before Sanders connected for a home run to left field for a 3-0 Hilltopper lead.
Sanders’ dinger began a stretch of four consecutive hits by the Tops as Webster followed with a double before Davis and Jordan Thomas each added base hits. Thomas sent her single to right center, allowing Davis and Webster to score. All nine Hilltopper batters made a plate appearance in the frame.
Smith led off the next inning with a single before moving to second on a sacrifice bunt and third on a flyout before scoring as Sanders reached base on an error, pushing the WKU lead to 6-0.
In the top of the seventh, Smith tallied her second hit of the day when she led off the inning with another single. Three batters later, Sanders returned to the plate where she connected with her second home run of the day – another blast to left field – giving WKU an 8-0 advantage.
Sanders' five-RBI game is a career best and marks the third multi-RBI performance of her career.
Davis recorded the 11th multi-hit game of her career as she went 2 for 3 against Chattanooga to go along with a stolen base.
Thomas was 1 for 1 with two RBIs, two walks and a sacrifice hit.
Shelby Nunn drew the start for WKU in the circle and worked five scoreless innings of three-hit ball. She tallied three strikeouts and allowed zero walks before giving way to Katie Gardner. In the fourth appearance of her career, Gardner worked two scoreless frames while striking out four of the nine Chattanooga batters she faced.