BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Three runs in the first two innings were all the 21st-ranked WKU Hilltoppers needed to top Belmont Wednesday night at Nick Denes Field, 3-2. Belmont scratched together a run in the fourth and another in the eighth to bring the game within one, but the Hilltopper bullpen did its job to preserve WKU's 24th victory of the season. The Hilltoppers move to 24-7 with the win, and Belmont is now 16-15. The Hilltoppers avenged a loss to Belmont earlier this season with Wednesday's victory.
Ross Hammonds relieved Brian Edelen in the fourth inning and worked one-and-two-thirds innings to pick up his second win of the season. Rye Davis pitched a scoreless ninth, mowing down two Bruins to save his league-leading seventh game of the year.
Matt Rice was 2-for-3 to lead the Hilltopper offense, and five others had a hit to account for the seven-hit WKU attack. Seven Bruin hitters had a hit, and Belmont left 12 runners on base.
After Edelen worked around a pair of two-out singles in the top of the first inning without allowing a run, WKU started the scoring with a tally in the bottom-half. Matt Payton walked and alertly took an extra base and ended up on third on a sacrifice bunt by Jared Andreoli, putting a runner on third with one out. Kes Carter singled to right field to score Payton, increasing his team-best average when hitting with a runner on third base and less than two outs. Carter has now driven the runner home 11 out of the 13 times he has faced that situation, a team-high .846 success rate.
Belmont put two more runners on base in the second inning but could not score, marking the second of five-straight innings to start the game that the Bruins would leave a pair of runners on base. The Hilltoppers scored two in the home-half of the second, giving them a 3-0 lead that would prove to be enough to win the game. Kory Petri singled to start the inning and advanced to second when Logan Robbins walked. After Payton executed a sacrifice bunt, Andreoli drove Petri and Robbins home with a double over the left fielder's head that rolled to the wall. WKU put another runner on base, but Rice grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The third inning went by with little fanfare, and Belmont got an unearned run in the fourth to get on the scoreboard. In the bottom of the fourth, Robbins singled up the middle to start the inning but was erased on a double play. That single made it seven-straight plate appearances he had reached base, dating back to his first at-bat of Tuesday's game against Murray State.
Tyler Gilliland entered in the sixth inning for WKU and made quick work of the Bruins, and the Hilltoppers went one-two-three in their sixth inning at-bat. Gilliland got two outs with two Bruins on base in the seventh, and Craig Stem got a harmless groundout to end the inning and keep WKU on top, 3-1.
WKU handed the ball to Shane Cameron in the eighth, and Cameron gave up a leadoff single to Drew Turner. Jared Breen doubled down the right-field line, scoring Turner to make it a one-run game, but was thrown out at third on a great throw by Andreoli and relay by Payton trying to stretch it into a triple. That emptied the bases and neutralized the potential tying run. Cameron got a pair of harmless flyouts to end the eighth and keep the score at 3-2.
Davis made his 18th appearance out of the bullpen on the season in the top of the ninth, throwing smoke and fanning two Bruins en route to his seventh save of the year.
Jake Wells' third-inning double was the 200th hit of his WKU career.
In holding Belmont to two runs, WKU has now won 23-straight games when the opponent scores between zero and two runs. The Hilltoppers also moved their record in one-run games to 5-0 this season.
Up Next: WKU welcomes South Alabama to Nick Denes Field for a Sun Belt Conference weekend showdown Friday-Sunday. South Alabama has a 10-2 record in league play to lead the conference, while WKU is right behind with a 7-2 mark. Friday's game starts at 6:00 PM, Saturday's first pitch is at 3:00 PM and Sunday's series finale begins at 1:00 PM. The Hilltoppers have won 15-straight weekend series at Nick Denes Field.