BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — The 23rd-ranked Hilltoppers fell short of completing a seven-run rally, and Illinois-Chicago salvaged the final game of a three-game series Sunday afternoon at Nick Denes Field, winning 7-5 after going ahead 7-0 after three innings. The Hilltoppers scored two in the sixth, one in the seventh and two in the eighth to bring the game within two runs, but could not finish the comeback and lost their third game of the season. The Hilltoppers now sit at 8-3, while Illinois-Chicago improves to 2-8.
Michael Heesch threw a complete game in his first start of the season to pick up the win for the Flames. Shane Cameron took the loss for WKU, giving up seven runs on eight hits in two-plus innings. Five WKU relievers combined to shut out the Flames on six hits in the final seven innings of the game, allowing only six hits. On the weekend, the WKU bullpen gave up just two runs in 14 innings of work, good for a 1.29 ERA. For the season, the Hilltoppers have allowed only one run in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings of games, counting for a 0.28 ERA and a .148 opponent batting average.
For the third-straight game, each WKU starter reached base, and Matt Payton extended his career-long hitting streak to nine games with a 1-for-4 showing. Kes Carter and Ryan Huck each went 2-for-4 with a run scored for WKU. Huck's two hits were a double and his second home run in three starts. John Rosinski was 4-for-4 with two RBI for Illinois-Chicago, and Steve McGuiggan reached base five times in six at-bats.
Illinois-Chicago scored first for the third-straight game, plating a run in the top of the first off Cameron. WKU went one-two-three in the bottom of the first, and the Flames jumped on Cameron for five runs on five hits in the top of the second. WKU had no answer in the bottom of the second and found themselves trailing 6-0 after two frames.
Illinois-Chicago added another run on a solo home run by Ryan Meehan to lead off the third inning, but new WKU pitcher Brian Edelen got a flyout, a fielder's choice groundout and a caught stealing to end the threat and keep the score 7-0.
Payton singled to right field to start things off in the home-half of the third inning, ending a streak of 19 Hilltopper hitters in a row retired by Flame pitching dating back to the fourth inning of Saturday's game. The next three men WKU sent to the plate were retired by Heesch, however, and the score remained 7-0 after three innings.
The middle innings went by with little fanfare, as Edelen wrapped up his three innings of relief after allowing only two hits, and Heesch continued to baffle the Hilltoppers. Andrew Keltner and Craig Stem combined to retire Illinois-Chicago in the sixth inning, keeping the score 7-0 in favor of the Flames after five-and-a-half innings.
But WKU put up a two-spot on the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to back-to-back one-out singles by Logan Robbins and Carter and a walk by Casey Dykes, which loaded the bases ahead of Matt Rice. Rice hit a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Robbins, and Huck followed with a two-out double to left field that plated Carter.
Tyler Gilliland emerged from the bullpen to pitch a scoreless seventh inning, and WKU got another run in the bottom of the seventh when Matt Borgschulte doubled and scored on a Jared Andreoli single. Rye Davis came on and pitched the first of his two innings of scoreless relief in the top of the eight, and WKU scored two more runs in the bottom-half to cut the Illinois-Chicago lead to 7-5. Rice singled with one out and Huck followed with a two-run home run to left-center.
Davis got a flyout and two strikeouts in the top of the ninth to keep the game within two runs, but Heesch induced two groundouts right back to him and a flyout to shut down the Hilltoppers in the bottom of the ninth and finish up the complete-game victory.
On the weekend, Payton hit .500 after going 7-for-14. He also added four runs, two home runs and six RBI, good for a 1.143 slugging percentage. Robbins scored five runs to lead the team, and Huck's five RBI against the Flames were one behind Payton for the most on the team.
Up Next: WKU returns to Nick Denes Field Tuesday afternoon at 3:00 to take on Tennessee. Following the game against the Volunteers, WKU hits the road to play nine of its next 10 away from home, starting Wednesday afternoon at Mississippi State. From there, the Hilltoppers travel on to New Orleans to open up Sun Belt Conference play Friday-Sunday. Tuesday against Tennessee is WKU Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day, as all WKU faculty and staff members can purchase unlimited tickets to the game for just $3 each.