TROY, Ala. — The 27th-ranked Hilltoppers used a five-run third inning to help propel them to a 7-4 win over Troy in the first game of a three-game Sun Belt Conference weekend series Friday night in Troy, Ala. The win snaps a two-game losing streak for WKU on Friday nights and is the Hilltoppers' fourth win in their last five meetings against the Trojans. Matt Rice had his sixth three-hit game of the season to lead the WKU offense, and Matt Ridings improved to 8-1 on the season with six solid innings on the mound. The win improves WKU's overall record to 31-14 this season, and the Hilltoppers are now 12-7 in Sun Belt Conference play. Troy drops to 21-20 overall and 8-11 in the league.
Rice was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI and hit his 10th home run of the season, matching his 2009 home run total. The third-inning long ball was also the 25th of his WKU career. Seven other Hilltoppers had a hit, including Monte Ketchum's pinch-hit, ninth-inning home run. Ketchum has now hit two home runs in his last three pinch-hit apperances.
Ridings pitched six innings and scattered six hits in picking up his eighth win of the season. He struck out six and walked just one. The win is the 33rd of his career, moving him into a tie for second place in Sun Belt Conference history with Jim Hvizda (Old Dominion, 1985-88). He is just one victory shy of tying Jason Norton (South Alabama, 1995-98) for the most pitching wins in the history of the Sun Belt Conference.
Andrew Dickinson threw a complete game in a losing effort for the Trojans. He fanned seven and did not issue a free pass.
After a one-hour rain delay at the start of the game, each hurler retired the side in order in the first two innings, and WKU jumped all over Dickinson for five runs on six hits in the top of the third to lead 5-0 after two-and-a-half innings. Kory Petri led off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Logan Robbins and scored on a two-strike single to left field by Blake Crabtree to plate the first Hilltopper run of the game. The next two Hilltoppers each singled as well, with Jared Andreoli's leading to two runs when his base hit scooted under the glove of the Troy right fielder. After Kes Carter struck out for the second out of the inning, Rice knocked a base hit to right field that scored Andreoli, and Jake Wells followed with a double to right-center that scored Rice all the way from first base.
With five runs in the top of the third, WKU is now 21-2 this season when stringing together a big inning of at least four runs.
With a five-run lead, Ridings surrendered only a two-out base hit in the bottom of the third to keep WKU on top, 5-0, after three innings. Dickinson set down the Hilltoppers in order for the third time in four innings in the top of the fourth, and Troy touched Ridings for two runs on three hits in the bottom of the fourth.
Dickinson again retired WKU in order in the top of the fifth, the fourth time he had done so in five innings, and Ridings got two strikeouts to strand a runner on second base in the bottom of the fifth to keep the Hilltopper lead at 5-2.
On the first pitch in the top of the sixth, Rice launched a home run over the giant wall in right field to increase the WKU lead to 6-3. Troy sent seven men to the plate but scored only once in the home-half of the sixth, as Ridings left the bases loaded when he got a strikeout against what would be the final batter he faced on the night.
WKU did not score in the seventh or eighth innings, and Bart Carter worked a one-two-three seventh out of the bullpen and got two outs in the Troy eighth before he was lifted after giving up a run-scoring double. With the score now 6-4 and a runner still on second base, Ross Hammonds was called upon and gave up an infield single to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Rye Davis entered the game and got a harmless flyout to right field to strand two runners on base and send the game to the ninth.
After Robbins struck out to lead off the WKU ninth, Ketchum stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter. He promptly blasted an opposite-field home run to left, giving the Hilltoppers some breathing room heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Davis picked up his eighth save of the season by taking care of the Trojans in their final at-bat, giving WKU its first Friday night win since April 9 against South Alabama.
Troy left nine runners on base in the game, and WKU stranded just four.
Up Next: WKU and Troy continue their three-game Sun Belt Conference weekend series Saturday afternoon at 3:00. The game will be televised on the Sun Belt Network and CSS, and will be shown live locally in the Bowling Green area on WKYU-PBS cable channel 11. Shane Cameron is scheduled to get the start for the Hilltoppers.