BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Starting pitcher Austin Clay struck out a career-high six batters over 4.2 innings, and reliever Taylor Haydel worked over three innings in relief giving up just one run, but that one run would turn out to be the game-winner as Florida Atlantic took down the Western Kentucky University baseball team 4-3 Wednesday night in front of a crowd of 1,093 at Bowling Green Ballpark in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
Florida Atlantic had stranded runners at third base in both the seventh and the eighth innings with the game tied at three, as Haydel worked out of both jams. The Owls would finally capitalize in the ninth as the first two Florida Atlantic batters in the inning reached base, with the game-winning run coming around to score on an error that took place on a pick-off attempt to first base. Nathan Pittman, who led off the inning with a walk, came around to score from second on the pick-off attempt, giving Florida Atlantic a 4-3 walk-off win.
The tight outcome is nothing new to the two programs, as Florida Atlantic and WKU battled to an 11-10 final in last season's Sun Belt Conference Tournament opener, with the Hilltoppers coming out on top. WKU and Florida Atlantic also played to a 6-5 extra-inning game in Boca Raton, Fla., earlier this month.
"Our kids have battled all year," WKU head coach Matt Myers said. "That is something that we will never stop doing, tomorrow or Saturday. That is never something you get nervous about in the dugout, whether we are at the plate or on the field. Our kids have shown that resiliency and fight all year long."
WKU (24-32) got to Florida Atlantic (32-20) starter Ryan Garton early with a pair of runs on four hits in the first inning. Jared Andreoli led off the game with career hit number 283, and would eventually come around to score the first run of the game. Andreoli finished with a pair of hits, marking his fourth multi-hit game in the last six contests. The two hits give Andreoli 284 in his career at WKU, trailing only Matt Rice's record of 309 career hits.
Hilltopper starter Austin Clay picked up right where he left off against Middle Tennessee, holding Florida Atlantic scoreless through the first two innings, striking out a pair. The Owls would eventually rally in the third, getting a two-out RBI double from Kyle Newton, tying the game at two. Florida Atlantic would then take the lead as ensuing batter Mark Nelson singled to score Newton, giving the Owls a 3-2 lead through three innings. The three runs would be the only that Clay would give up on the night, as the sophomore went 4.2 innings, taking a no-decision.
Florida Atlantic starter Ryan Garton would settle in for the next three-plus innings, retiring 10-straight Hilltoppers from the third inning through the sixth.
In the top of the seventh WKU would make things interesting, loading the bases after a pair of Florida Atlantic errors with just one out in the inning. Scott Wilcox would tie the game for WKU with an RBI sac fly to center field, scoring David Simmons from third base to tie the game at three - a score that would hold until the eventual game-winner in the ninth.
Taylor Haydel (4-5) took the loss for WKU, despite going 3.1 innings in relief, giving up just four hits and striking out four. Haydel has now gone three or more innings in five of his last six appearances, allowing only three runs during that span and striking out 24 batters.
Reliever Ahmed Garcia (3-0) picked up the win for Florida Atlantic, going two innings in relief, giving up one hit and striking out one.
Wednesday's loss marked the first loss for WKU at Bowling Green Ballpark after going 4-0 at the venue over the last three years with wins over Louisville and Kentucky.
With the loss, WKU falls to 0-1 in Pool A, while Florida Atlantic joins ULM with a 1-0 record atop the pool. Florida Atlantic and ULM will square off tomorrow at 3:00 from Bowling Green Ballpark.
WKU will return to action tomorrow night as well, as the Hilltoppers will take on fourth-seeded South Alabama at 7:00 from Bowling Green Ballpark. South Alabama fell to ULM in extra innings 7-4 in the opening game on Wednesday.
For ticket information for tomorrow's game and for the entire tournament, fans are encouraged to visit WKUsports.com and see about exciting ticket offers under "Tournament Central" or by calling 1-800-5 BIG RED. Tickets will be available the day of the game as well, along with flex-packs that are available for select games.
(1) Florida Atlantic (1-0)
(5) Louisiana-Monroe (1-0)
(4) South Alabama (0-1)
(8) WKU (0-1)
(2) Arkansas State (1-0)
(3) FIU (0-0)
(6) Troy (0-0)
(7) Middle Tennessee (0-1)