TUCSON, Ariz. — The WKU softball team continued its strong start offensively Friday at the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson, Ariz., defeating North Dakota 9-2 in the first game of the tournament. The Lady Toppers, however, were unable to hold off a rallying Southern Utah team in its second game of the day, falling 5-4 at Hillenbrand Stadium.
For the fifth consecutive game, WKU (4-2) scored in the first inning of its game against North Dakota (3-2). Kelsie Mattox led the charge with a single, advancing to second base on a wild pitch. Preslie Cruce then hit a triple to center field, scoring Mattox to put the Lady Toppers ahead 1-0. Amanda Thomas singled to right field, bringing Cruce around to score to give WKU a 2-0 lead after the top of the first. Starting pitcher Kim Wagner held the Fighting Sioux off the scoreboard early, striking out three batters in the first two innings.
WKU stretched its lead to 3-0 in the top of the third. With Mattox at third base and Karavin Dew at first, the Lady Toppers executed a double steal. Dew reached second safely as Mattox scored. Thomas then delivered another RBI single to right field, putting the Lady Toppers ahead 4-0. In the top of the fifth, Mattox hit her second home run of the season. Her two-run shot over the right -center field fence gave WKU a 6-0 lead with no outs in the inning.
The Lady Toppers put three more runs on the scoreboard in the top of the seventh. Sammi McGraw, Mallorie Sulaski, and Laura Smith all drew walks to load the bases with two outs. Katrina Metoyer then singled to center field, driving in McGraw and Sulaski. Smith scored on a throwing error by centerfielder Cami Bennett, which allowed Metoyer to reach third while making the score 9-0. Fighting Sioux get on scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh with two-run home run by Mallory Tacdol, the only runs North Dakota could muster against Wagner.
Thomas and Mattox each had two hits and two RBI in the game against the Fighting Sioux. Mattox also had three runs scored. Shawna Sadler also had two hits in the leadoff spot. Wagner allowed four hits for the complete game win, tying a career-high with 10 strikeouts.
It was Southern Utah (1-2) that struck first in WKU's second game of the day. The Thunderbirds started the game with a Mallory Wilkinson lead-off walk. Wilkinson then advanced to second on a wild pitch by the Lady Toppers' Brittanie Albright. Tessa Loewen then reached base on an error and got to second, giving Southern Utah runners at second and third with no outs. After Mikkel Griffin walked to load the bases, Kelsey Bryant hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Wilkinson, but a heads up throw by Metoyer in centerfield put Griffin out at second base. Madison Resley then lined out to Thomas at shortstop to end the inning.
WKU got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second inning. Thomas led off the inning with a single and was pinch-run for by Tiffany Gooch. Gooch promptly stole second and advanced to third on a muffed throw by Bryant at shortstop. Amanda Walden drove in Gooch with a double down the left field line, tying the game 1-1. After Metoyer was hit by a pitch, Olivia Watkins hit a triple to center field to bring in two more runs, giving WKU a 3-1 lead. Mattox put the Lady Toppers ahead 4-1 in the third inning with her second home run of the day, a solo blast to make the score 4-1.
The Thunderbirds closed the gap in the top of the fourth. With runners at second and third, Haylee Hoch hit an RBI-single to right field to make the score 4-2. After Albright struck out Marqi Gray for the second out of the inning, Wilkinson hit an infield RBI-single to get Southern Utah within one, 4-3. Thunderbirds starting pitcher Heather Black held the Lady Toppers to one hit in the final four innings. Southern Utah tied the game in the sixth inning on a Loewen RBI single, then took the lead in the seventh on Resley home run. Black took down WKU in order in the bottom of the seventh to give the Thunderbirds their first win of the season.
Walden was 2-for-3 at the plate against Southern Utah to lead WKU in hits. Albright gave up seven hits in five innings, allowing four runs while striking out three. Emily Rousseau pitched the final two innings and also struck out three batters.
WKU continues play in the Hillenbrand Invitational Saturday afternoon. The Lady Toppers take on UAB at 3 p.m., followed by a 5 p.m game against the host #16 Arizona Wildcats.