BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU hit five doubles and four triples in a 12-4 win over Sun Belt Conference foe South Alabama Saturday afternoon at Nick Denes Field, clinching its 16th-straight home weekend series win and giving head coach Chris Finwood his 200th career victory. The four triples were a season high, and the five two-baggers fell just one shy of the most in a game this season for the Hilltoppers. The win is WKU's seventh-straight over South Alabama, who came into the series in first place in the Sun Belt Conference, and improves WKU's record to 26-7 overall and 9-2 in league play this season. South Alabama is now 22-13 overall and 10-4 in the conference.
Five Hilltoppers recorded multiple hits, with Matt Payton's second three-hit game in as many days leading the way. He had a triple and a double in the game, giving him nine triples this season and 16 in his career, putting him alone in second place in Sun Belt Conference history. Casey Dykes, Matt Rice and Kes Carter had the other WKU triples, and Dykes, Jared Andreoli, Jake Wells and Monte Ketchum had a double. Payton and Robbins each drove in three runs, and Robbins was on base three times. He has now been on base in 14 of his last 16 plate appearances.
Shane Cameron tossed six innings and struck out seven in picking up his fourth win of the season. He walked only two and gave up four hits, with only one coming in his final three innings of work. Phil Wetherell and Rye Davis finished the game for the Hilltoppers and surrendered only one hit. As a team, South Alabama saw only three baserunners after the third inning. The Jaguars, who came into the series with a .335 team batting average and had scored the seventh-most runs in the nation this year, has managed just seven runs and 11 hits in two games this weekend.
Each team went down in order in the first inning and Cameron and South Alabama starting pitcher Garrett Harris were in the groove right out of the box. The Jaguars scored three runs on one hit in the top of the second to take a 3-0 lead after their second at-bat. Cameron struck out the first batter of the inning but issued back-to-back walks for the first time this season to the next two hitters. A double by Tyler Vick scored one, and then Cameron threw a wild pitch to bring a second runner home. Brandon Brown's RBI groundout scored the third run of the inning, but Cameron fanned Nathaniel Lami to end the inning.
The Hilltoppers got all three runs back, plus an extra, in the home-half of the second. Carter tripled with one out and scored on a Ketchum double after a Wells hit-by-pitch, and Robbins followed with a two-run single down the left-field line to tie the game at three. Payton stepped up with two outs and tripled to deep center field himself, scoring Robbins and giving WKU the one-run lead.
The Jaguars fought back to tie the game in the top of the third, as Cameron surrendered a single and a run-scoring double before working out of the inning. WKU was held scoreless in their third inning at-bat, and the game remained tied at 4 at three innings.
Cameron set down the next six Jaguars in the fourth and fifth innings, and WKU took its second lead of the game with a run in the fifth. Payton led off the frame with a single, moved to second on Dykes' sacrifice bunt and scored when Andreoli singled a 1-2 pitch to right field.
In what would be his final inning of work, Cameron got two big strikeouts for the final two outs of the sixth inning to strand a Jaguar on third base and preserve the one-run Hilltopper cushion. Jake Overstreet led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a groundout to third base. With just one out and the tying run on third, Cameron buckled down and struck out the next two South Alabama batters swinging, keeping WKU on top after five-and-a-half.
The Hilltoppers rewarded the pitching staff with some breathing room, as they scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth and led 10-4 after six innings. Dykes and Rice each tripled and scored, Payton had a two-RBI double and WKU drew three walks to put the Jaguars in a big hole.
Wetherell entered in the top of the seventh and got a groundout, a foul-out and a flyout to set down the Jaguars in order. WKU picked up two more runs in the bottom of the seventh, as Wells doubled and scored on Robbins' single up the middle, and Payton, who reached on a fielder's choice, scored on Dykes' two-bagger to left center.
In the top of the eighth Wetherell gave up a leadoff single but was helped by his defense, as Payton speared a line drive and doubled off the runner at first base. Wetherell walked the next batter, but got an easy groundout to end the inning.
Davis, the league's leader in saves, entered in a non-save situation in the top of the ninth and was spectacular in striking out the side to end the game with the score 12-4 in favor of WKU.
On the day, WKU hit .444 with runners in scoring position, .417 with two outs and advanced at least one runner in an at-bat nearly 60 percent of the time.
In his last four outings, Cameron is 3-0 with a 2.62 ERA. He has struck out 23 in 24.0 innings and walked only five. Opponents have managed just 15 hits in those 24.0 innings.
Before today, WKU had tripled twice in a game four times for its previous season high, and the five doubles on Saturday were one behind the season-high six in the March 20 game at VCU.
Up Next: WKU and South Alabama wrap up their Sun Belt Conference weekend series Sunday afternoon at 1:00. It is Little League Day and Education Day at Nick Denes Field. All students in kindergarten through eighth grade and all little league players can receive a free ticket to the game. There will be a special autograph session after the game as well.