BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — The second half of the Sun Belt Conference schedule begins this weekend, and #26 WKU hosts FIU in a three-game weekend series at Nick Denes Field Friday-Sunday. The Golden Panthers and the Hilltoppers are tied for fifth place in the conference with identical 9-6 league records entering the weekend. WKU has dropped four-straight Sun Belt Conference games for the first time since 2006, and FIU leads the league in hitting with a .341 team batting average.
All games will be broadcast live on the Big Red Radio Network, and live stats, live video and live audio will be available for all three games as well.
Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Nick Denes Field, and all military personnel can receive a free ticket to the game. It is also Special Olympics Day at the ballpark, when all Special Olympic participants can receive a free ticket to the game as well. Family members of both groups can purchase tickets for only $3 each.
Sunday is Warren County Little League Day, and all Warren County South, North and Pee Wee Little Leaguers can receive a complimentary ticket to the game. Family members of the little leaguers can buy tickets for $3 each.
Complete game notes are available in .pdf form at the link at the bottom of the page.
Friday, April 23 // 6:00 PM
#26 WKU (28-13, 9-6) vs. FIU (22-14, 9-6)
Bowling Green, Ky. // Nick Denes Field (1,500)
WKU: Matt Ridings (Senior RHP; 7-1, 3.99 ERA)
FIU: R.J. Fondon (Sophomore LHP; 2-2, 3.23 ERA)
Saturday, April 24 // 3:00 PM
#26 WKU (28-13, 9-6) vs. FIU (22-14, 9-6)
Bowling Green, Ky. // Nick Denes Field (1,500)
WKU: Shane Cameron (Senior RHP; 4-1, 4.73 ERA)
FIU: Aaron Arboleya (Sophomore RHP; 3-1, 4.79 ERA)
Sunday, April 25 // 12:00 PM
#26 WKU (28-13, 9-6) vs. FIU (22-14, 9-6)
Bowling Green, Ky. // Nick Denes Field (1,500)
FIU: Scott Rembisz (Senior RHP; 5-3, 5.63 ERA)
• LEADING OFF: After splitting a pair of midweek games against Kentucky and Louisville, 26th-ranked WKU returns to Sun Belt Conference play with a three-game series against FIU. The Golden Panthers took two of three games against WKU in Miami last season. FIU was picked to finish third in the conference in the preseason coaches poll, right behind WKU.
• LOOKING BACK: The Hilltoppers pounded Kentucky, 24-8, on Tuesday before dropping their fifth-straight against Louisville, 7-4, on Wednesday night. A record crowd of 6,138 was on-hand for Tuesday’s game against Kentucky at Bowling Green Ballpark and was treated to a 16-run WKU second inning before Kentucky recorded an out.
• SCOUTING THE GOLDEN PANTHERS: FIU comes into the weekend sitting in a tie with WKU for fifth place in the league and leads the conference in hitting with a .341 team batting average. The Golden Panthers won series against Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette, swept New Orleans and lost two of three against Middle Tennessee and UALR to get to their 9-6 Sun Belt Conference record.
• LOOKING TO HANG ON: In all six Sun Belt Conference losses this season, WKU has scored first. Other than those games, WKU is 13-2 when scoring first.
• LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: WKU has scored 10 or more runs in 18 of its 41 games this season. In addition, WKU has posted double-digit hit totals 26 times.
• BUMP IN THE ROAD: WKU has dropped its last four Sun Belt Conference games, the first four-game losing streak in conference play since 2006. During these last four conference losses, WKU is hitting .266 as a team, and the pitching staff has a 7.34 ERA and an opponent batting average of .351.
• PACKED HOUSE: The attendance for Tuesday’s game against Kentucky at Bowling Green Ballpark was 6,138, the largest crowd to see a WKU baseball home game and the largest crowd to ever see a college baseball game in the state of Kentucky.
• DID YOU SEE THAT?: In the blink of an eye in Tuesday’s game against Kentucky, WKU put up 16 runs on 13 hits in the second inning - all before Kentucky recorded an out. It is believed to be the largest-scoring inning in WKU baseball history and came close to the NCAA record for runs in an inning of 21. Sixteen Hilltoppers reached base and all scored before Kentucky got its first out of the inning.
• RAIN DELAY THEATER: A video of WKU and Florida Atlantic players trading skits during a rain delay before the April 16 game in Boca Raton has become an internet sensation. The Hilltoppers have been featured on multiple ESPN shows, CNN and Fox News, in addition to countless websites. Also, Matt Payton was interviewed live on ESPN First Take on April 22 in relation to the “Rain Delay Theater” video.
• PAYTON NAMED FINALIST FOR LOWE’S SENIOR CLASS AWARD: Matt Payton has been named one of 10 national finalists for the 2010 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. The award is presented to one senior baseball student-athlete who exemplifies great character in addition to outstanding athletic achievements. The award is now open to fan voting, and the fan vote will be combined with media and coach voting to determine the winner.
• DAVIS UP FOR STOPPER OF THE YEAR: WKU pitcher Rye Davis has been named to the midseason watch list for the 2010 Stopper of the Year Award, presented by the NCBWA to the best relief pitcher in the nation. The midseason watch list will be trimmed down to four candidates before a winner is announced on opening day of the College World Series.
• RE-SETTING HIS SIGHTS: After already setting a new WKU record for pitching victories with the 29th win of his career at VCU on March 19, Matt Ridings has his sights set on another honor. He is just three wins shy of setting the Sun Belt Conference record for pitching wins in a career. He currently is tied for third place at 32 career wins and is approaching Jason Norton’s (South Alabama, 1995-98) conference record of 34 career victories.
• THREE’S COMPANY: Matt Payton has been finding the gaps for triples all season, as his nine on the year are already the most in a single season in WKU history. His 16 career triples are approaching the conference’s all-time record of 20 as well. As of April 15, Payton has more triples this season than eight Sun Belt Conference teams, and as of April 18 he has the second-most three-baggers in the nation.
• ANOTHER LONG STRETCH: The series finale against FIU will wrap up a stretch of 15 games in 20 days for the Hilltoppers. WKU went 11-4 in a similar 15 game in 20 day span from March 2 to March 21.
• DOESN’T GET ANY EASIER: As of April 22, the average opponent’s winning percentage in WKU’s final 28 regular-season games is .569.
• SETTLING IN: Beginning with the April 6 game against Murray State, WKU will play 17 of its final 30 regular-season games at Nick Denes Field, with an additional game at Bowling Green Ballpark in nearby downtown Bowling Green.
• ROAD-FRIENDLY: WKU is 14-8 in games played away from Nick Denes Field this season, including a 12-8 mark in true road games and a 2-0 record in neutral-site games. From March 12 through April 2, the Hilltoppers won 10-straight road games.
• HOME SWEET HOME: With two wins in its last home weekend series against South Alabama April 9-11, WKU has now won its last 16 weekend series at Nick Denes Field. Also, the Hilltoppers have won 40 of their last 48 home games, dating back to 2009.
• LATE-INNING DOMINATION: WKU has outscored its opponents 85-35 in the seventh inning and later of games this season, part of the reason why WKU has been able to log 16 come-from-behind victories and has 41-straight when on top after eight innings.
• MIXING AND MATCHING: In 41 games played in 2010, WKU head coach Chris Finwood has used 32 batting orders. Dating back to the start of the 2009 season, the Hilltopper lineup card has seen 81 different batting order arrangements in 103 games.
• HILLTOPPER IRONMAN: Senior infielder Jake Wells has started 162 straight games, dating back to the first game of the 2008 season against Bowling Green State. That streak is the sixth-longest active streak in the nation.
• DOING IT RIGHT: The WKU pitching staff currently leads the Sun Belt Conference with 333 strikeouts in 347.1 innings pitched. In addition, the staff has allowed the fourth-fewest walks.
• PAYTON NAMED SBC PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Matt Payton became WKU’s third weekly award-winner of 2010 when he was named the league’s player of the week for the week of April 5. The senior had a monster five-game week in which he hit .550 and four of his 11 hits were triples. He also scored 10 runs, at least one per game, in helping WKU go 4-1 in the week. He had three three-hit games against South Alabama in a Sun Belt Conference weekend showdown to wrap up the week.
• SEEING DOUBLE AND TRIPLE: WKU set a school record with four triples in the April 10 game against South Alabama - plus hit five doubles - to win, 12-4 and clinch the series victory. The previous game-high for triples was three, set March 30, 2005 against Kentucky State.
• HITTING THE WALL: After averaging nearly 9.5 runs per game through the first 26 games of the season, WKU ran into some offensive trouble at Arkansas State April 2-4. The Hilltoppers scored just seven runs while going 1-2 on the weekend, hitting .232 as a team with only three extra-base hits. The offense struck out 28 times and walked 10 times.
• PUTTING IT TOGETHER: Jared Andreoli saw his career-long 15-game hitting streak snapped on April 4. He hit .444 during the streak.
• HISTORIC START: The 2010 Hilltoppers completed the best 27-game start in school history at 22-5. The 1980 WKU team started the season 21-5-1 and ended up with a 47-13-1 record, an OVC championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
• OUT LIKE A LION: The Hilltoppers finished the month of March with a 16-4 record and won their final eight games of the month.
• RANKING? SO WHAT?: After taking down 30th-ranked Kentucky on March 31, WKU knocked off its third ranked opponent of 2010.
• NO STRANGER TO THE SEC: With a win at Kentucky on March 31, WKU captured its third win over a Southeastern Conference opponent already in 2010.
• RISING IN THE POLLS: With a 4-0 record during the week of March 22, WKU rose to 18th in the Baseball America poll and 25th in the NCBWA poll and entered the top 25 of two other major polls for the first time in school history. The number-18 ranking in Baseball America was tied for the highest ever ranking by any Hilltopper baseball team and was the highest any athletic program at WKU has been ranked since the women’s basketball team was ranked 15th in the final Associated Press poll of the 1997-98 season.
• FREQUENT BUS-RIDER MILES: WKU traveled 2,292 miles via bus during a stretch of nine games of 10 on the road from March 10-March 24. The Hilltoppers went 8-1 during the road swing.
• RICE PICKS UP WEEKLY HONOR: For his efforts in helping WKU to a 4-1 week during the week of March 15, junior catcher Matt Rice was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week. He hit .538 during the week with 11 runs scored, seven doubles, two home runs and 13 RBI. Three of his doubles came in the March 20 game at VCU, making him the first Hilltopper to hit three doubles in a game since J.B. Paxson had three against Youngstown State on March 28, 2008. It is Rice’s first career weekly award.
• NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE: The March 21 game at VCU wrapped up a stretch of 15 games in 20 days for WKU. The Hilltoppers went 11-4 in that stretch.
• STREAK SNAPPED: After going 0-for-4 at the plate March 21 at VCU, Matt Payton’s career-long 18 game hitting streak was snapped. He hit .400 during the streak and recorded seven multi-hit games, including four three-hit games and a five-hit contest. The streak was the fourth-longest in the nation in 2010.
• HATS OFF: Matt Ridings’ game hat from his school record-breaking 29th career victory March 19 at VCU is headed to the College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock, Texas. The museum requested his hat to be autographed and shipped to the Hall of Fame for display around the country and eventually permanently in the museum.
• HIS AND HIS ALONE: With a win on Friday, March 19 at VCU, Matt Ridings became WKU’s all-time leader in pitching victories. The win was his fourth of the season and 29th of his career, moving him past Ryan Hutchison (1998-01) and into sole possession of the top spot in the records.
• FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS: In the March 16 game at #18 Vanderbilt, WKU rolled to a 17-2 victory, handing the Commodores their largest defeat since losing an 18-2 decision at LSU. The loss ended a six-game losing skid to Vanderbilt, and the Hilltoppers have now defeated two ranked teams in the same season for the first time since 2005.
• ISN’T IT GRAND?: Kes Carter and Matt Rice each hit a grand slam at 18th-ranked Vanderbilt on March 16. Jake Wells hit a grand slam in the series finale at New Orleans on March 14, the previous WKU game, which was the first WKU grand slam since Chad Cregar hit one against Louisville on March 25, 2009.
• COMEBACK KIDS: The Hilltoppers are no strangers to playing from behind and have already logged 12 comeback wins in 2010, including three with two outs in their final at-bat in a span of five games from March 9-14. WKU erased a pair of two-run deficits with just one out to work with against Tennessee and in the second game against New Orleans, and the series finale against the Privateers saw WKU score one in the ninth with two outs to tie the game. The three wins when trailing after eight innings in those games ended a streak of 21-straight losses when behind after eight frames.
• SWEEPING IN HOSTILE TERRITORY: The Hilltoppers completed a three-game sweep of New Orleans March 12-14, the first conference road series sweep for WKU since beating UALR three times May 14-16, 2004. It had been 22 conference road series in between WKU sweeps.
• STEPPING IN RIGHT AWAY: Tanner Perkins started WKU’s second Sun Belt Conference game of 2010, pitching game two of the conference opening-weekend series at New Orleans on March 13. In doing so, he became the first true freshman to start a conference game for the Hilltoppers since Matt Ridings did so at Middle Tennessee on May 18, 2007.
• ON THE DOORSTEP OF HISTORY: With a win against New Orleans on March 12, senior pitcher Matt Ridings tied Ryan Hutchison (1998-2001) for the most victories all-time by a WKU hurler at 28. To compare further, Hutchison started 53 games in his WKU career, and the record-tying start was Ridings’ 50th.
• RIDINGS SUN BELT CONFERENCE PITCHER OF THE WEEK: Senior pitcher Matt Ridings has been named the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Week for the week of February 22. He worked six innings against #29 Texas A&M on February 26, allowing just six hits and one run. It is his fourth career conference pitcher of the week award.
• CRACKING THE POLLS: After going 3-0 in the QTI Baylor Classic in Waco, Texas, February 26-28 and starting the season 5-1, WKU found itself ranked 23rd in the Collegiate Baseball Top 30 poll. It is the same publication that positioned the Hilltoppers 23rd in the country at the end of the 2009 season. This ranking is WKU’s first since that final poll of 2009. WKU fell out of the rankings after going 3-2 the following week.
• USING THE LONG-BALL: WKU hit 12 home runs in a span of five-and-a-half games, dating back to the fifth inning of the February 28 game at Baylor. The 12 home runs were the first 12 of the season for the Hilltoppers, who needed nearly six games to hit the year’s first home run. WKU hit seven in the three-game series against Illinois-Chicago alone and has homered in six-straight games.
• QTI BAYLOR CLASSIC CHAMPIONS: The Hilltoppers completed a successful weekend in Waco, Texas, at the QTI Baylor Classic by winning three games and earning the tournament championship. WKU defeated 29th-ranked Texas A&M, 5-1, beat Texas State, 4-3, and knocked off Baylor, 6-2, to move its winning streak to five. Hilltopper pitching allowed just six runs, five earned, in the series, holding opponents to a .216 batting average and compiling a 1.67 ERA.
• THREE NAMED ALL-TOURNAMENT: For their efforts in the QTI Baylor Classic February 26-28, Matt Ridings, Rye Davis and Kes Carter were named to the all-tournament team. Carter led the team with a .364 batting average and a .500 on-base percentage in the three games, Ridings pitched WKU past 29th-ranked Texas A&M in the weekend’s first game and Davis finished each of the three games on the weekend and did not surrender a run. In addition, Ridings was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Pitcher.
• A LONG-BALL AT LAST: When Kes Carter and Matt Rice went back-to-back with home runs to lead off the fifth inning of Sunday’s game at Baylor, they provided the first home runs for WKU in 2010. The Hilltoppers had gone 193 at-bats and nearly six games without a home run to start the season. They needed just 30 at-bats before Matt Payton hit the team’s first home run in 2009.
• NOT SHOWING THEIR AGE: Freshmen Tanner Perkins and Taylor Haydel combined on a four-hit shutout of Kent State on February 20, one day after the Golden Flashes offense banged out 16 hits and scored 13 runs. Perkins threw six innings and struck out six, and Haydel earned the three-inning save without allowing a hit. Neither hurler allowed a walk. The duo pitched WKU to its first shutout victory since April 19, 2009.
• BOUNCING BACK: After allowing 13 runs on 16 hits in the series opener against Kent State on Friday, the WKU pitching staff responded by holding the Golden Flashes to just three runs and 12 hits in the final two games of the series. In addition, WKU hurlers limited Kent State to only four hits after the sixth inning all weekend.
• GETTING THE JOB DONE: Of the 36 WKU hits in the first three games of the 2010 season, just five of them were of the extra-base variety, meaning that WKU took advantage of 29 singles. In fact, after a Kes Carter double in the fourth inning of the season opener, there was a stretch of 27 consecutive hits being singles for the Hilltoppers, extending to the eighth inning of the opening series finale on February 21.
• RETURN OF RYE DAVIS: Rye Davis pitched two scoreless innings over two outings opening weekend against Kent State, marking his first appearances since May 31, 2008. Davis is returning from a career-threatening eye injury that cost him the entire 2009 season.
• RIDINGS SETS STRIKEOUT RECORD: With his first strikeout against Kent State in the season opener on February 19, the 265th of his career, Matt Ridings became the school’s all-time leader in career strikeouts.
• RIDINGS RIGHT AT THE TOP: WKU senior pitcher Matt Ridings is poised to etch his name at the top of the WKU record books in his final season on the Hill in 2010. He enters the season within striking distance of five Hilltopper pitching records, including wins and innings pitched. He became the school’s all-time career strikeout record-holder with his first punch-out of the season against Kent State on February 19 and can also become WKU’s all-time pitching leader in games started, innings pitched and decisions.
• RIDINGS NATION’S LEADER: Entering the 2010 season, WKU pitcher Matt Ridings was the nation’s current active leader in both victories (25) and strikeouts (271). Fellow pitcher Bart Carter was tied for 10th in wins (18) among active hurlers to start the season.
• MR. ALL-AMERICAN: Junior catcher Matt Rice was named a first-team preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA). It is the third straight season that WKU has had an NCBWA Preseason All-American, as Chad Cregar was voted to the first team in 2009 and the second team in 2008.
• PAYTON NAMED CANDIDATE FOR LOWE’S SENIOR CLASS AWARD: Matt Payton has been named one of 30 candidates for the 2010 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, which is given annually to one senior student-athlete who has notable achievements in four areas of excellence. The list of candidates will be trimmed to 10 finalists midway through the regular season, and voting will be opened to the public to determine the winner.
• FOUR VOTED TO PRESEASON TEAM: Senior pitchers Matt Ridings and Bart Carter, junior catcher Matt Rice and senior second baseman Matt Payton were named Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference. The four selections from WKU were the most by a single school in 2010.
• PRESEASON RESPECT: In the 2010 Preseason Coaches Poll, league coaches predicted WKU to finish second in the conference in 2010. The Hilltoppers checked in 11 points behind first-place Middle Tennessee, and received two first-place votes, compared to the Blue Raiders’ eight.
• CHALLENGES THROUGHOUT: The 2010 WKU baseball schedule is loaded with quality opponents from top to bottom. The first three weekend series feature games against teams that either went to the NCAA Tournament or won their conference in 2009, and games against Southeastern Conference foes Tennessee, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky highlight the midweek schedule. In all, WKU is scheduled to play 13 games against NCAA Tournament teams from last season in 2010.
• CONFERENCE POWER: With Middle Tennessee and WKU earning bids to the NCAA Tournament in 2009, the Sun Belt Conference has now seen multiple teams placed in the field of 64 for 21 straight seasons.
• RIVALS LOVES FINWOOD: WKU head coach Chris Finwood found himself in elite company during the offseason, as national collegiate baseball writer Kendall Rogers of rivals.com listed him as one of the nation’s rising coaches and one of the nation’s hottest coaches in two articles in December 2009. Rogers says that “Finwood is one of the few mid-major coaches to watch in the near future,” and that he is “[q]uietly one of the hottest coaches in America.”
• BULLARD BACK TO BASEBALL: Junior Chris Bullard, a linebacker on the WKU football team, will be playing baseball at WKU for the first time in 2010. A 45th-round draft choice by the Los Angeles Angels out of high school in 2007, the Cataula, Ga., native will contend for time in the outfield and at designated hitter.
• TURN ON THE TUBE: WKU’s game at Troy on May 1 and the May 22 showdown at home against Middle Tennessee will be broadcast live on the Sun Belt Network. Game times are 3:00 PM (CT) and 6:00 PM (CT), respectively.
• WKU ACADEMIC SUCCESS: In the first semester of the 2009-10 academic year at Western Kentucky University, 25 of 35 WKU baseball players on the fall roster recorded a GPA of 3.0 or higher - an outstanding 71 percent of the squad. In all, 213 student-athletes at WKU are maintaining a GPA of 3.0 or higher, which represents 52 percent of WKU’s 412 student-athletes. Nine of WKU’s 19 programs have a cumulative team GPA of 3.0 or higher, and the average GPA for all student-athletes is 2.93.
• A SEASON TO REMEMBER: The 2009 WKU baseball season will go down as one of the finest seasons in school history. The Hilltoppers won the Sun Belt Conference championship, its first since joining the league in 1983, en route to a 40-win season and a second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. WKU made waves in the NCAA Oxford Regional, defeating Missouri twice and number-eight Mississippi once before being eliminated in a winner-take-all regional final by the host Rebels. Head coach Chris Finwood’s fourth Hilltopper squad finished the season with a 42-20 record, the team’s first 40-win season since 1988.
• NATIONAL RECOGNITION: WKU found itself ranked 23rd in the final Collegiate Baseball Top 30 poll, its first national ranking since 2001.
• SUN BELT CONFERENCE HARDWARE: In addition to the Sun Belt Conference championship trophy, a pair of Hilltoppers picked up individual conference accolades in 2009. Head coach Chris Finwood was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, and senior Matt Hightower was named Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year.
• TAKING NOTICE: WKU third baseman Wade Gaynor completed a remarkable 2009 season, and people on the national stage took notice. Gaynor was named an All-American by both the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and Baseball America.
• TOURNAMENT TIME: A quartet of Hilltoppers excelled in both the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament in 2009, picking up all-tournament honors. Outfielder Chad Cregar, third baseman Wade Gaynor and catcher Matt Rice were all named to the All-NCAA Tournament Team, and pitcher Bart Carter picked up All-Sun Belt Conference Tournament recognition.
• GOING STREAKING: Junior catcher Matt Rice put together a school-record 31-game hitting streak last season from March 1-April 17. He hit .425 (57-for-134) during the streak.
• DEFENSIVE PROWESS: Chris Finwood-coached squads pride themselves on defense, and 2009 was no exception. The Hilltoppers finished the season with a .979 fielding percentage, tops in the Sun Belt Conference and third-best in the nation.
• CONSISTENT HITTING: WKU recorded a .330 team batting average in 2009, good for second in the conference and 23rd nationally.
• CHICKS DIG THE LONG BALL: The Hilltoppers blasted 88 home runs in 2009, an average of 1.4 per game.
• DEFENDING THE HOME FIELD: WKU was an outstanding 27-3 at home in 2009. The 27 home wins are tied for the most in a single season in Nick Denes Field history, and the .900 winning percentage is tops all-time in the history of the Nick.
• THE 1,500 MARK: With two wins against Albany on March 1, 2009, WKU surpassed the 1,500-win plateau in 90 seasons of baseball.
• FINNY WINS 100TH GAME: In 2009, WKU head coach Chris Finwood became just the fourth Hilltopper head coach to reach 100 wins since 1923.
• MOVING ON: Six Hilltoppers were selected in the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Players Draft, the most in a single draft in Hilltopper baseball history. Wade Gaynor became the highest drafted player in WKU baseball history when he was selected in the third round by the Detroit Tigers. Also hearing their names called were J.B. Paxson (13th round, Los Angeles Dodgers); Chad Cregar (15th round; Florida); Terrence Dayleg (22nd round; Florida); Matt Ridings (25th round; Washington) and Evan Teague (35th round; Toronto).