NEW ORLEANS, La. — WKU started the defense of its Sun Belt Conference championship with a 17-1 pounding of New Orleans Friday night, and Matt Ridings tied the all-time WKU record for pitching victories with six-and-two-thirds two-hit innings. The win was Ridings' third of the season and 28th of his career, tying him with Ryan Hutchison for the most wins by any hurler in the history of Western Kentucky University baseball. The win, the most lopsided conference season-opening win since WKU beat South Alabama, 16-1, on March 15, 1985, moves the Hilltoppers' record to 10-4. New Orleans falls to 3-7.
Ridings pitched six-and-two-thirds innings and allowed just two hits and one earned run. He fanned a season-high eight batters in the contest. Ridings has now only allowed three hits in his last 13.2 innings against New Orleans, both Hilltopper victories. After already surpassing Hutchison for most career strikeouts by a WKU pitcher earlier this season, the senior right-hander is now just one win from passing him in another category and etching his name at the top of the all-time win column in the WKU record books.
Craig Stem and Garrie Krueger combined to finish the rest of the game for the Hilltoppers, allowing no baserunners and striking out four. On the season, the WKU bullpen has given up just two runs in the seventh inning or later, an outstanding 0.44 ERA and .139 opponent batting average in that time frame.
The Hilltoppers scored in every inning except the first en route to a season-high 17 runs and fell two hits shy of equaling their season high of 18. Six players recorded multiple-hit games, with Matt Payton and Matt Rice each having three-hit showings, their fourth and second three-hit contests of the season, respectively. Payton extended his career-long hitting streak to 12 games with the effort. Rice and Jared Andreoli each drove in three runs to lead the way for the Hilltoppers, and Blake Crabtree recorded his first career multi-hit game after entering the game as an injury replacement in the bottom of the second. He went 2-for-5 with three runs and two RBI.
The Hilltoppers started the scoring in top of the second, when Rice led off with a home run to right field. Ryan Huck and Casey Dykes followed with singles and came around to score on an RBI groundout and an error by Privateer starting pitcher, Joe Zimmerman. WKU got one run in both the third and fourth innings, with Kory Petri and Crabtree crossing the plate.
New Orleans got on the scoreboard with a run in the bottom of the fourth off Ridings, as Jay Morris knocked an RBI double down the left-field line. But the Hilltoppers responded by sending 11 men to the plate and scoring six runs on two hits in the top of the fifth. After Rice flew out to start the inning, the next five hitters reached base and scored, taking advantage of multiple Privateer miscues including two hit-by-pitches, two errors, a balk and a wild pitch. On the night, the Privateers made five errors, walked eight batters, threw three wild pitches, hit three Hilltoppers and balked in a run.
Ridings cruised through the fifth and sixth innings and got two outs in the seventh before being lifted after allowing a walk. Stem got a lineout to end the seventh and struck out the side in the eighth, and WKU led 16-1 after eight innings. Rice walked, moved to third on a pair of wild pitches and scored on a Jake Wells groundout to shortstop to score the 17th and final Hilltopper run.
Krueger worked a one-two-three inning in the bottom of the ninth, getting two groundouts and a strikeout to end the game and give WKU its first conference win of 2010.
In the last five meetings between the schools, dating back to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game in 2008, WKU has outscored New Orleans 75-12.
Up Next: The Hilltoppers and the Privateers meet for game two of the three-game series Saturday afternoon at 4:00. Tanner Perkins is slated to toe the rubber for the Hilltoppers, as WKU will be going for its first series win at New Orleans since 2003. The series finale is scheduled for 1:00 PM on Sunday.