BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU wrapped up the 2010 regular season with a 15-5 thumping of Middle Tennessee Saturday night at Nick Denes Field, in a game that was shortened to six-and-a-half innings due to the 10-run rule in game three of a conference series. The win secures WKU's first series win since April 23-25 over FIU and gives the Hilltoppers some momentum heading into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
WKU is seeded eighth for the tournament and will face top-seeded Florida Atlantic on Wednesday at 12:30 PM. The Hilltoppers finished in a three-way tie for sixth place with a 16-14 league record, but lost two tiebreakers to finish with the eighth seed. WKU's regular season concludes with a 35-21 overall record.
The 10-run victory, which came due in part to a nine-run fourth inning, was the most lopsided win in the WKU-Middle Tennessee series since the Hilltoppers defeated the Blue Raiders in the 2004 Sun Belt Conference Tournament, 14-4.
Kes Carter was 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBI to lead the WKU offense, and Matt Payton scored four runs. Ryan Huck drove in four runs with a 2-for-3 performance and his seventh home run of the season, which was WKU's first long ball in six games and second in the last 10.
Ross Hammonds was outstanding in three innings of one-hit baseball in relief of WKU starter Tanner Perkins, and Hammonds earned his fourth win of the season. Only one batter reached base against the right-hander. Brian Edelen pitched a scoreless seventh inning, the final inning of the game, to secure the victory.
The Hilltoppers scored first in the home-half of the first inning off Middle Tennessee starter Eric Gilley, plating a run on three hits and Matt Rice's RBI fielder's choice groundout. But the Blue Raiders answered right back with five runs off Perkins to take a 5-1 lead after one-and-a-half innings.
WKU went down quietly in its next two at-bats against Gilley, and the score remained 5-1 in favor of Middle Tennessee after three innings. Hammonds shut down the Blue Raiders in his first inning of work in the top of the fourth, and the Hilltopper offense exploded for nine runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 10-5 lead it would not relinquish.
Thirteen hitters stepped to the plate in the inning, and Middle Tennessee made two errors that led to a couple of the nine runs. Eight of the nine hitters in the Hilltopper order scored a run in the inning, and Huck scored twice. His three-run home run to deep center field over the hitter's eye was the big blow, but the Hilltoppers also had four other hits and showed good plate discipline by drawing three walks in the inning.
The nine-run inning was WKU's second-largest inning of the season, following the 16-run second inning against Kentucky on April 20.
Hammonds continued to deal in the fifth and sixth innings, and WKU scored five more runs over the next two frames to lead 15-5 after six innings. Carter had a single to right field in the fifth that Bryce Brentz misplayed, allowing a run to score and putting another run on third base. After Rice lined out to third base Logan Robbins grounded the ball back to the pitcher, who threw it away and allowed the run to cross the plate.
Rice had a two-out base hit in the sixth that scored the 15th Hilltopper run, the most runs WKU has scored since the 24-run explosion against Kentucky on April 20, and set up the victory by the 10-run rule should WKU keep Middle Tennessee off the scoreboard in the top of the seventh.
The Hilltoppers turned to Edelen to get the job done, and the right-hander needed just seven pitches to dispose of the Blue Raiders and wrap up the series victory.
Middle Tennessee made four errors in the game, and Jared Andreoli stole his 14th base of the season.
On the weekend, WKU hit .330 as a team. Huck was 5-for-10 (.500) at the plate in the series with a home run and four RBI, and Payton scored five runs. The Hilltopper pitching staff held the conference's best offense to a .255 batting average in the series and just six extra-base hits.
With the Senior Night win, WKU concludes the 2010 regular season with a 19-9 record at Nick Denes Field. A total of 26,907 fans came through the gates at Hilltopper home games this season, which is the most total fans in a single season in Hilltopper baseball history. The final season average was 960 fans per game.
Up Next: WKU begins play in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Wednesday at 12:30 PM against Florida Atlantic. The tournament is hosted by Middle Tennessee, and more details will be available in the coming days.