BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Playing in what was their final game in a Hilltopper uniform, the five Western Kentucky University baseball seniors closed out their respective WKU careers with another memorable game at Bowling Green Ballpark, winning 7-4 over ULM Saturday night in the Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament.
Senior position players Jared Andreoli, Casey Dykes, Ivan Hartle and Ryan Hutchison all collected at least one hit, with Andreoli, Dykes and Hutchison all turning in multi-hit games. Hutchison and Dykes also belted home runs in their final games in a Hilltopper uniform, with Hutchison hitting his eighth home run in the second inning and Dykes hitting his third homer of the year in the sixth. The senior position players accounted for seven of the10 Hilltopper hits on the night.
Lone Hilltopper senior pitcher Ross Hammonds entered the game in the ninth inning and retired each of the first two batters he faced, before being lifted from the game, along the other four WKU seniors with two outs in the ninth to a standing ovation from the crowd at Bowling Green Ballpark. Hammonds ends his career with 3.33 ERA in four years at WKU, setting career highs in 2012 in innings pitched (52.2) and strikeouts (57) and tied a career high with 26 appearances out of the Hilltopper bullpen.
Dykes, a four-year player for WKU, ends his career on the Hill with a .284 average, accumulating 191 hits, 27 doubles, three triples, 11 home runs, 95 RBIs and a .960 fielding percentage at third base in 174 starts over the last four years.
"Usually you figure that unless you are the national champions, there is no way you can end your career with a win," Dykes said. "We did that tonight and it always a great way to go out."
Ivan Hartle and Ryan Hutchison each played two years at WKU, making immediate impacts on the Hilltopper squad. Hartle made 98 starts and appeared in 100 games in two years on the Hill, picking 97 hits in two years, including 17 doubles and four triples, while also turning in a .979 fielding percentage as the Hilltoppers every day second baseman.
Hutchison provided the power in the WKU lineup over his two years as a Hilltopper, belting 14 home runs with 88 RBIs over the last two seasons, starting all 115 games over the last two years. Hutchison hit eight home runs in 2012 and finished with a team-best .465 slugging percentage.
"It was special going out like this," Hutchison said. "For our seniors, I think this was special and was good overall."
Jared Andreoli closed out one of the top careers in WKU baseball history, leaving his stamp on the program after four years as a Hilltopper. Andreoli leaves the Hill ranking second in WKU history in hits (287), third in runs scored (196), sixth in games played (221), second in triples (15), seventh in stolen bases (40) and set the WKU all-time record for at-bats with 894, breaking a record set by Brad Worley from 1989-92. Andreoli leaves as a career .321 hitter and did not commit an error in the outfield over the last two-plus years, finishing with a .989 fielding percentage for his career.
"Those five seniors have been a part of a lot with a program that is looked upon by a lot of people around the country," WKU head coach Matt Myers said. "Those five guys have had a lot to do with that and I wanted to send them out with a win. To finish on a high note and finish this season with a win means a lot."
The Hilltoppers battled back against ULM after falling behind 1-0 early. Hutchison's solo blast in the second tied the game before ULM re-took the lead at 2-1 in the second.
WKU (25-33) would take the game over the fifth, plating five runs in the inning thanks in part to an RBI single from Casey Dykes, a two-RBI single from Ryan Huck and a two-run home run by Adam Lavelle to cap off the big inning to give WKU a 6-2 lead. The home run was the first of Lavelle's career.
WKU would tack on another run in the sixth off Casey Dykes' third home run of the season.
Brennan Pearson picked up his third win of the season after tossing three innings of scoreless baseball, while sophomore Justin Hageman claimed his first career save, getting the final out in the ninth inning to preserve a 7-4 WKU win over ULM, moving WKU to 3-2 against the Warhawks all-time in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and 8-2 in games played in Bowling Green.
Freshman pitcher Ian Tompkins started his ninth game of the season, working the first four innings, striking out two, giving up a pair of runs.
The win in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament means WKU has now won at least one game in the tournament in 12 out of the last 14 years, while making the tournament in 14-straight seasons. WKU ranks second in the Sun Belt Conference with 34 all-time wins in the tournament's history.