TUCSON, Ariz. — The Western Kentucky University softball team split a pair of dramatic games in the Hillenbrand Invitational on Saturday, using a seventh-inning comeback to beat the UAB Blazers 3-2 at Hillenbrand Stadium. The Lady Toppers led #16 Arizona 4-3 in the fifth inning before the Wildcats came back to win 6-4.
UAB (5-4) got on the scoreboard first in WKU's first game of the day. After a Catherine Crawford triple, Kayla Orr hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Crawford and give the Blazers' a 1-0 lead. Staring pitcher Lannah Campbell was dominant early for UAB, allowing one walk in the first three innings while striking out four Lady Toppers. Emily Rousseau did her part to keep UAB at one run, striking out three in the first three innings.
WKU (5-3) had a great chance to tie the game in the top of the fourth. Shawna Sadler led off the inning by reaching on an error. Kelsie Mattox then dropped a bunt single up the third base line, WKU's first hit in the game, to give the Lady Toppers two baserunners with no outs. Preslie Cruce loaded the bases when she reached on an infield error. With Amanda Thomas at the plate, Sadler tried to steal home and was caught for the first out of the inning. Thomas then hit into a fielder's choice, with third baseman Kate Armstrong throwing home to put out Mattox. With two outs and the bases loaded, Campbell got Mallorie Sulaski to ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
The Lady Toppers tied the game in the top of the sixth inning. Sadler hit a lead-off double down the left field line. UAB then brought in Leigh Streetman to replace Campbell in the circle. Streetman promptly struck out the first batter she faced, but allowed a Cruce single to give WKU runners at first and third. Cruce then stole second to give WKU two potential runners in scoring position with one out. Thomas then drew a walk to load the bases. Sulaski tied the game when she drew a walk, scoring Sadler to make the score 1-1. UAB took back the lead in the bottom half of the inning on a Hayley Davis RBI single, taking a 2-1 lead.
Down by one run, Katrina Metoyer led off the top of the seventh with a single. Amanda Walden then pinch-hit for Olivia Watkins and singled as well. Watkins came back on to run for Walden. Metoyer and Watkins then pulled off a double steal, giving WKU runners at second and third with no outs. Sadler then hit a single to center field, scoring Metoyer to tie the game 2-2. Watkins got to third base and then scored on an errant throw by centerfielder Whitney Fletcher to put the Lady Toppers ahead 3-2. Sadler reached second on the error. UAB ended the rally there. Fletcher made up for her error by picking off Sadler at second on a fly ball. Thomas then struck out to end the inning. Rousseau made sure WKU held on to win, taking down UAB in order in the bottom of the seventh to give the Lady Toppers the 3-2 win.
Sadler was 2-for-4 against UAB with an RBI and a run scored. Rousseau scattered nine hits over the seven innings, striking out three with two walks.
In its second game of the day, WKU took on the nationally-ranked Arizona Wildcats (6-3) with Sulaski making her first start as a pitcher on the season. Arizona threatened to score in the bottom of the first as Chelsea Suitos singled then took second base on a wild pitch. Suitos advanced to third on a Brigette Del Ponte groundout. With two outs in the inning, Sulaski walked Jessica Spigner and Lini Koria to load the bases. Sulaski got out of the jam by getting Kristen Arriola to groundout to end the inning.
The Lady Toppers got their first hit off Arizona starter Kenzie Fowler in the top of the third inning when Sadler hit a two-out single to right field. Mattox then hit a home run over the left field fence to give WKU a 2-0 lead. Cruce followed up Mattox's blast with a single and a stolen base, but WKU's threat in the inning ended on a groundout. The Wildcats answered the Lady Toppers in the bottom of the inning. Koria brought in Arizona's first run of the game with a one-out RBI double. After an Arriola walk, Shelby Pendley hit an RBI fielder's choice to tie the game 2-2. Arizona then took a 3-2 lead on an RBI double by Chelsea Goodacre.
Junior pitcher Kim Wagner entered the game for WKU in the fourth inning, keeping Arizona off the scoreboard by getting a groundout and strikeout. Catcher Karavin Dew also threw out a runner stealing second in the inning. The Lady Toppers then scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 4-3 lead. Metoyer hit a lead-off single to start the inning. Sadler then got a base hit with one out to get Metoyer to third. With Mattox at the plate, Sadler stole second. Mattox then hit a fielder's choice to bring in Metoyer, tying the game 3-3. Cruce then hit a deep fly ball to center field, far enough to bring in Sadler on a sacrifice to give the Lady Toppers a 4-3 lead.
Arizona tied the game in the bottom of the fifth, as Koria led off the inning with a home run over the center field wall. The Wildcats then got two runs in the sixth. Hallie Wilson led off the sixth inning with a single, followed by a bunt single by Suitos. WKU then brought in Rousseau to face Del Ponte with two on and no outs. Rousseau struck out Del Ponte, but gave up an infield single to Spigner to load the bases. Koria then drew a walk to bring in Wilson and give the Wildcats' a 5-4 lead. Arriola followed Koria with an RBI walk of her own to make the score 6-4. Rousseau ended the Arizona half of the sixth with a strikeout and groundout.
Just as in the first game against UAB, the Lady Toppers entered the top of the seventh trailing against Arizona. Metoyer led off the inning with a single, followed by a Laura Smith walk. Fowler stepped up in the circle and struck out Sadler and Mattox, then got Cruce to fly out to centerfield to end the game.
Sadler was 2-for-4 against Arizona, scoring two runs. Metoyer also had two hits in the nightcap. Mattox was 1-for-4 in the second game with three RBI. Suitos, Koria, and Goodacre each had two hits for Arizona. Fowler struck out eight batters for the Wildcats, allowing six hits and four walks.
WKU wraps up play in the Hillenbrand Invitational Sunday morning with a 10 a.m. game against UAB.