May 2, 2014
MONROE, La. - WKU needed 11 innings to get past ULM at Warhawk Field Friday night, but superb pitching and a sac fly from junior first baseman Ryan Church in the top of the 11th inning did the trick for the Hilltoppers (26-21, 12-10 SBC) as they edged the Warhawks (18-29, 8-14 SBC) 4-3 in the series opener.
WKU freshman reliever Sam Higgs tossed three perfect innings to extend the contest to extras and ultimately earned his fifth win of the year after Church's sac fly in the 11th. Higgs entered during the bottom of the eighth inning with the score knotted at 3-3 and delivered 21 strikes on 32 pitches while setting nine Warhawks down in order.
The Hilltoppers couldn't generate any offense in the ninth or tenth innings, but freshman pinch hitter Hunter Wood kick started WKU's attack in the 11th by drawing a walk. Freshman Clint Hardy pinch ran for Wood, was sacrificed to second by senior outfielder Regan Flaherty and moved to third with one out after Wilcox reached on a ULM error. That set the table for Church, who soared one to the left field warning track to score Hardy with ease.
With WKU leading 4-3 it called on junior closer Ian Tompkins, who struck out two and rolled Dalton Herrington into a groundout for his 13th save of the season. Tompkins' 13 saves rank fifth nationally and are four more than any pitcher in the Sun Belt Conference.
The win improved WKU to five games over.500 for the first time since March 9th when it was 10-5. The victory also represented WKU's 10th in 16 games decided by one-run this season. Since Matt Myers became the head coach in 2012, WKU has played in 55 games decided by one run and it has won 20 of its last 28 games decided by one run.
WKU's offense pounded out 12 more hits, giving the Hilltoppers 82 hits in their last six Friday night Sun Belt Conference games. WKU has now strung together nine or more hits in 15 of its last 17 games and has racked up 10 or more hits in 26 of 47 games this season.
WKU starting pitcher Justin Hageman worked his seventh quality start of the season, throwing 62 of his 93 pitches for strikes while fanning four Warhawks. He scattered six hits and three runs over seven innings in the no decision.
Hageman and ULM starter Jared Dye were locked in a pitchers' duel until WKU came through with its first run in the fifth inning, using an RBI infield single from first baseman Ryan Church to take a 1-0 lead. Church's RBI drove in senior outfielder Regan Flaherty, who started WKU's two-out rally with the first of three-straight two-out hits.
Junior catcher Ryan Messex led off the sixth inning with a double into the left center gap and was plated later in the frame courtesy of junior shortstop Cody Wofford's RBI, making the count 2-0 in WKU's favor.
Hageman didn't allow a runner enter scoring position until the sixth inning, but ULM took advantage of its first opportunity with an RBI single from Keelin Rasch to trim WKU's lead to 2-1. The Warhawks' run ended a streak of 13.1 innings of scoreless baseball, dating back to last Friday's start, for Hageman.
ULM took its sixth-inning momentum into the bottom of the seventh, using back-to-back two-out RBI singles from Chet Simoneaux and Josh Faciane to take its only lead at 3-2.
WKU came back to tie the game at 3-3 in the eighth after a two-out RBI single from Flaherty that scored sophomore pinch runner Trevor Lowe from third. Senior outfielder David Simmons was held up at third base after Flaherty's tying hit and represented the go-ahead run, but he was stranded there to end WKU's eighth.
Higgs shut down ULM in eighth with two groundouts and a fly out to give WKU chance to win it in the ninth, but the middle of the Hilltopper order couldn't get anything going. Higgs was perfect in the ninth and 10th, going went toe-to-toe with ULM's top reliever Tyler Bray. Bray also kept the Warhawks alive in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings, but wound up taking the loss as his opening act walk in the 11th was the eventual go-ahead run for WKU.
Church and Flaherty combined for four hits and three RBI while Simmons, senior second baseman Scott Wilcox and junior designated hitter Philip Diedrick all tallied two hits each. WKU out-hit ULM 12-6 as it improved to 24-7 in games where it out-hits opponents.
The Hilltoppers aim to clinch the series at ULM tomorrow at 6 p.m. with sophomore right-hander Josh Bartley (4-3, 4.72 ERA) on the mound. He'll face ULM righty Chris Hunt (2-3, 4.72 ERA). First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Warhawk Field. For more information on WKU Baseball, follow the team on Twitter at @WKUBaseball or visit WKUSports.com.
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