BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Matt Ridings tied a career-high with 11 strikeouts in the first WKU complete game in nearly a year, and three Hilltoppers had three hits while Ryan Huck drove in five runs as #21 WKU blasted South Alabama, 13-3, in the first game of a three-game Sun Belt Conference series Friday night at Nick Denes Field. Ridings struck out 11 and walked nobody in the outing, setting a new season high for the second-straight start and matching the most batters he has struck out in a game in his career. WKU won its third-straight to move to 25-7 on the season and 8-2 in Sun Belt Conference play, and South Alabama, who came into the weekend in first place in the conference, drops to 22-12 overall and 10-3 in the league.
WKU has won six-straight meetings against South Alabama, and Ridings earned his seventh-straight win after taking a no-decision in the first game of the season. His 32nd career victory is the most by any active pitcher in the nation and puts him in a tie for third place in Sun Belt Conference history with Bryan Cryer, who pitched at New Orleans from 2005-08. Ridings is just two wins shy of tying Jason Norton for the most wins in Sun Belt Conference history.
Matt Payton, Matt Rice and Kes Carter all had three hits to lead the WKU offense, and Huck drove in a career-high five runs with a double and a home run. Payton and Rice also scored three runs, and Payton knocked two triples for the second time this season. He now has eight triples on the season, which sets a new single-season WKU record, and his 15 career three-baggers extends his all-time lead at WKU. Logan Robbins reached base in all four plate appearances on three walks and a single and has now has reached base in 11 of his last 12 plate appearances.
Ridings surrendered a first-inning run for the second-straight game, as Adam Heisler singled, stole second and scored on an RBI groundout by Jake Overstreet to put South Alabama on top, 1-0, after their first at-bat. WKU touched Jaguar starter D.D. Hanks, who entered the game tied for most wins in the nation this season, for three unearned runs in the home-half to lead 3-1 after one inning. Payton reached on an error by the first baseman and scored on a Rice single, and Jared Andreoli, who walked with one out, crossed the plate along with Rice on Huck's two-out double to left field.
Ridings responded to his teammates' offensive inning by striking out the side in the top of the second, and WKU erupted for seven runs in the bottom of the second to lead 10-1 before many of the 792 fans at Nick Denes Field had settled into their seats. The Hilltoppers sent 10 men to the plate and started the inning with four-straight hits, including a Payton triple, and scored three runs before their first out. Rice doubled home his second run of the day with one out in the second, which chased Hanks from the game. Hanks had pitched into the ninth inning in five-straight starts, four of which were complete games. He gave up eight runs in the one-and-one-third innings, his shortest outing of the year.
Still in the second inning with only one out, Carter was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second and bringing Huck to the plate. Huck deposited a home run to right field, his fourth of the season, which gave WKU a nine-run advantage. The seven second-inning runs marks the third time this season that WKU has scored seven runs in an inning.
South Alabama got a run back in the top of the third when Brandon Brown hit a lead-off home run, but Ridings fought back to keep the score 10-2 after two-and-a-half innings. WKU plated three more in the bottom of the third, thanks to an RBI triple by Payton and a solo home run by Rice, giving him a team-leading seven round-trippers on the year.
Now with an 11-run advantage, Ridings cruised through the middle innings, working around a few lead-off runners reaching base but rarely any damage. Ridings allowed the lead-off runner to reach base in five of South Alabama's nine at-bats, but the next batter never reached and Ridings faced the minimum after that in each inning.
The South Alabama bullpen was mostly effective in the later innings, as the final three relievers allowed only three WKU hits and no runs.
The conference's second-leading hitting team at .335 had just six hits off Ridings, and South Alabama's scoring offense, which ranked seventh in the country with 283 runs this season, plated just three.
The last WKU pitcher to throw a complete game was Matt Hightower, who did it on April 10, 2009 against New Orleans. Ridings' last complete game was April 5, 2008 against FIU, and the last time he struck out 11 batters was May 2, 2009. In his last two outings, Ridings has struck out 20 in 15.1 innings and issued no walks.
The Hilltoppers are 7-1 on Fridays this season and have scored an average of 11 runs in Friday night contests.
WKU has now won 39 of its last 45 home games, dating back to the start of the 2009 season.
Up Next: WKU and South Alabama continue their Sun Belt Conference weekend series with a Saturday afternoon game at 3:00 PM at Nick Denes Field. Shane Cameron, who is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his last three starts, will get the game ball for the Hilltoppers, who will be going for their 16th-straight home weekend series victory.