WKU Wins Two Against Illinois Saturday To Clinch Series

Austin Clay

March 8, 2014

WKU 4, Illinois 3

WKU 5, Illinois 3

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. –  WKU used strong performances from its pitching staff and solid two-out hitting to sweep Saturday’s double-header against Illinois at Nick Denes Field. The Hilltoppers (9-5) defeated the Fighting Illini (6-6) 4-3 with a late rally in game one and hung on to win game two by a score of 5-3.

WKU extended its home winning streak to seven games and clinched the three-game series with Illinois, moving the Hilltoppers to a perfect 3-0 in weekend series this season.

Senior left-handed pitcher Austin Clay and sophomore right-hander Josh Bartley both recorded quality starts in the double-header, working six full innings and allowing a combined five runs while striking out eight batters.

The Hilltopper bullpen was highly effective in both games, scattering a combined five hits and one run in six innings of relief work. The bullpen protected a pair of slim leads in the ninth innings, pushing WKU’s winning streak to 48 when leading through eight innings.

The Hilltoppers batted .360 in two-out situations during the contests, pounding out nine hits and driving in four of their six RBI in two-out scenarios. Junior designated hitter Philip Diedrick led all hitters with five hits on the day, three of which came with two outs on the board.

 A recap of both games can be found below.

WKU returns to the diamond Sunday at 1 p.m. as it looks to complete its second-straight three-game series sweep at Nick Denes Field. All military personnel will receive free admission as a part of Military Appreciation Weekend and it will be another Sunday Fun Day at The Nick, with all children ages 12 and under getting free admission and a chance to run the bases at the end of the game.

For more information on WKU Baseball, follow the team on Twitter at @WKUBaseball or visit WKUSports.com.

Game One – WKU 4, Illinois 3

Illinois pounced on the Hilltoppers immediately to start the first game, plating runs in the first and second innings to take a 2-0 advantage. The Illini lead would hold until the sixth inning when WKU’s eighth hit of the game was finally able to drive home a run.

Junior catcher Ryan Messex was responsible for the first trimming of Illinois’ lead, driving an RBI single right up the middle to score Diedrick and cut the deficit to 2-1. Illinois extended its lead to 3-1 in the seventh inning after an RBI base knock from Michael Hurwitz.

Trailing 3-1 heading to the bottom of the eighth inning, senior Regan Flaherty and sophomore Thomas Peter kick-started the comeback with back-to-back singles to lead off the inning. Senior David Simmons pinch ran for Flaherty at first base and stole second on the second pitch of Messex’s at bat. Illini reliever Ronnie Muck threw a pair of wild pitches in the same at bat for Messex, which allowed Peter and Simmons to cross home and tie the game at 3-3.

After Messex walked with the score knotted at 3-3, redshirt freshman Leiff Clarkson pinch ran for Messex and stole second with Anderson Miller at the dish. With the winning run in scoring position, Miller ripped an RBI single up the middle to plate the game-winning run in the eighth.

Junior relievers Brennan Pearson and Ian Tompkins shut down the Illini in the ninth inning, preserving the Hilltoppers 4-3 lead to clinch game one. Tompkins picked up his conference leading fifth save of the year by striking out the final batter.

Freshman reliever Sam Higgs picked up his third win of the season after another effective outing, tossing two innings of one-run baseball and striking out a batter. Clay registered his second-straight quality start against a Big 10 opponent, giving up only two runs in 6.0 innings despite surrendering 10 hits.

Game Two – WKU 5, Illinois 3

Thomas Peter carried the momentum from game one over to game two and put the Hilltoppers on the board immediately in the first inning, roping a two-run double to left field to plate juniors Ryan Church and Philip Diedrick and give WKU a 2-0 lead.

The Hilltoppers lead wouldn’t last long, as a sacrifice fly from Hurwitz and a two-run homer from David Kerian pushed across three runs for the Illini in the third inning.

Sophomore Josh Bartley responded with three-straight scoreless innings and only allowed one hit after the third inning. The start was Bartley’s first weekend start of his career and he answered the bell with his second-straight quality start. The South Warren High School product struck out a career high five batters and picked up his second win of the year.

WKU knotted the game at 3-3 in the fifth inning when Flaherty singled to right field to plate Diedrick from second base. Flaherty recorded his third-straight multiple hit game and Diedrick wound up scoring a combined three runs in both games.

Junior shortstop Cody Wofford smacked the go-ahead RBI to left field in the sixth inning to plate Miller, who finished game two 2-of-4 at the plate with a pair of runs scored.  Leading 4-3 through six innings, senior Justin Hageman relieved Bartley on the mound and tossed three scoreless innings while allowing one hit to pick up the three-inning save.

WKU picked up a key insurance run on an odd run down play in the eighth inning, as Miller crossed home to give the Hilltoppers a 5-3 lead on a throwing error by Illini first baseman Kerian. Sophomore Trevor Lowe grounded a ball to shortstop Zack Kolakowski, who threw pinch runner Paul Murray out at home plate. Lowe advanced to first on the fielders choice and rounded to head to second, allowing Miller to sneak to third base. Kerian tried to gun down Miller’s advancement to third base, but his toss scooted by Ryne Roper and allowed Miller to cushion WKU’s lead at 5-3.

Hageman worked a perfect ninth inning to preserve the 5-3 win and clinch the series for the Hilltoppers.

How to Follow the Hilltoppers: For complete information on WKU Baseball, follow the team's social media channels, @WKUBaseball on Twitter and Instagram and WKUBaseball on Snapchat.