CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — The 19th-ranked Hilltoppers exploded for 14 runs in the first five innings Tuesday night at Austin Peay, burying the Governors and powering their way to a 14-7 victory. The Hilltoppers have now scored 10 or more runs in 17 of their 35 games this season. With the win, WKU moves to 27-8 on the season and 14-4 in road or neutral-site games. Austin Peay falls to 17-16 with the loss. Combined with a 14-7 win against Austin Peay March 2 in Bowling Green, WKU has beaten the Governors twice in a season for the first time since 1994.
Matt Payton, Matt Rice and Casey Dykes all homered for the Hilltoppers, with Payton's coming on the first pitch of the game, tying a single-game high for home runs this season for WKU. Each Hilltopper starter reached base in the game, and Payton and Jake Wells led the way with three hits apiece. The three-hit game was Payton's fourth consecutive three-hit performance. Wells also drove in four runs, and Kory Petri and Payton scored three times.
The Hilltoppers jumped all over Austin Peay starter Eric Davis right from the start, scoring two runs in the first and three runs in the second before chasing Davis from the game after just two outs in the second frame. Payton, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week, blasted the first pitch he saw to deep right-center field for his seventh home run of the season, and Rice hit his eighth of the year with two outs in the first.
Andrew Zimmerman, making his first start of the season, got two quick outs before walking the third batter in the Austin Peay first inning, but he escaped with no damage to keep WKU ahead 2-0 after one inning. The WKU offense picked up right where it left in the top of the second, scoring three runs on four hits. With one out, Petri doubled and Wells followed with a single that scored Petri, extending the Hilltoppers lead to 3-0. After a bunt groundout by Logan Robbins, Payton singled on the first pitch of his second at-bat, the second pitch he saw in the game, scoring Wells from second. Dykes kept the hits rolling with a run-scoring double, and WKU led 5-0 after one-and-a-half innings.
Zimmerman's outing was finished after he worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the second, and the Hilltoppers kept the pressure on with nine more runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to lead 14-1 midway through the game. Taylor Haydel relieved Zimmerman in the bottom of the third and surrendered six runs in three-and-two-third innings of work.
The Governors clawed back for six runs in the final four innings to bring the game to its final score of 14-7. The margin of victory could have been slimmer, but Ross Hammonds got two outs with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh to snuff out a potential Austin Peay big inning.
Hammonds surrendered just one hit in 2.2 innings to pick up the win for WKU, and Davis took the loss for the Governors.
Austin Peay made five errors in the game, and a seventh-inning error by Payton marked just the third time in the last eight games that WKU has had a defensive miscue.
Up Next: The 19th-ranked Hilltoppers host #12 Louisville Wednesday night at 6:00 at Nick Denes Field. This will be the first of two meetings between WKU and the Cardinals this season. Following the game against Louisville, the Hilltoppers head to Florida Atlantic for a three-game Sun Belt Conference weekend series Friday-Sunday.