BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Western Kentucky University senior center fielder Jared Androeli's walk-off, RBI single in the bottom of the 13th inning Friday night allowed the Hilltoppers to clinch a Sun Belt Conference tournament berth with a 5-4 series-clinching victory over Middle Tennessee at Nick Denes Field.
Losses by Arkansas-Little Rock, Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday gave WKU the opportunity to clinch its 14th consecutive Sun Belt tournament appearance in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
"We just did some things tonight that (are) what you've got to do to win and we executed perfectly." WKU coach Matt Myers said. "I'm speechless."
The conference tournament, which will be played at Bowling Green Ballpark in downtown Bowling Green, is scheduled to begin Wednesday. The bracket will be announced following Saturday's games.
In the bottom of the 13th, the Hilltoppers loaded the bases with no outs with singles from first baseman Ryan Huck and catcher Devin Kelly and a fielder's choice off the bat of shortstop Scott Wilcox. Andreoli's single through the left side scored pinch runner Brennan Pearson.
"I can't be more proud of that kid," Myers said. "If it's true we're in the tournament, we deserve it. We've grinded and overcome more adversity than any one. They deserve that opportunity."
WKU (24-30, 13-16 Sun Belt Conference) held a 4-3 lead after seven innings before Middle Tennessee (28-27, 13-16) tied the game with a run in the top of the eighth. The Hilltoppers have won six straight meetings with the Blue Raiders at Nick Denes Field.
Sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman (4-6) pitched 5-2/3 scoreless innings in relief, allowing four hits with three walks and three strikeouts. Hageman entered the game with one out in the eighth inning and worked out of several jams, including bases loaded in the top of the 13th.
Blue Raiders reliever Joey McClung (4-2) allowed one run on five hits with a walk and four strikeouts over the final five innings.
Andreoli went 3-for-6 with an RBI and a run and is now tied with Josh Patton (1994-97) for second on the career-hits list with 281 career hits. Second baseman Ivan Hartle had two hits with two RBIs and Huck and designate hitter Blake Crabtree each added a pair of hits. Shortstop Scott Wilcox added an RBI.
The Blue Raiders took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning on an RBI single by shortstop Ryan Ford.
WKU knotted the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the third behind a run-scoring single off the bat of Wilcox.
A two-run single by Hartle put WKU in front 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
MTSU tied the game at 3-3 with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth. An RBI double by catcher Dain McNabb and a run-scoring single by Ford accounted for the scoring.
The Hilltoppers edged in front 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh when pinch runner Matthew Paculan came in to score on a throwing error by Blue Raiders first baseman Justin Guidry. Paculan replaced Crabtree who led off the frame with a walk.
The Blue Raiders tallied a run in the top of the eighth on an RBI single by Guidry to tie the game at 4-4.
Left-hander Tim Bado gave up three runs on seven hits in 5-2/3 innings while walking three and striking out four. Redshirt senior Ross Hammonds was touched for a run on four hits with a pair of strikeouts in 1-2/3 innings.
Blue Raiders starter Hunter Adkins allowed three runs on eight hits with one strikeout in 4-1/3 innings.
The two teams wrap up the regular season with a 1 p.m. matchup on Saturday. WKU freshman left-hander Ian Tompkins (4-2, 6.26 ERA) gets the start while MTSU will send freshman left-hander Jonathan Frebis (4-3, 3.47) to the mound. Five Hilltoppers senior will be honored in a pre-game ceremony beginning around 12:45.