WKU powers back in 16-11 victory in series finale over Marshall

WKU Baseball and Marshall battled for nearly eight hours on Saturday. But it was in the “eleventh hour” — trailing 9-3 late in Game 2 of the doubleheader — that the Hilltoppers staged a dramatic comeback to clinch a 16-11 win and salvage a split on the afternoon.

After falling in Game 1 by a score of 11-7, then facing a potential sweep with a six-run deficit after six innings in Game 2, WKU scored 12 runs in the next two frames to stun the host Thundering Herd and improve to 8-6-1 in Conference USA play.

Game 1 The score was tied 2-2 after four innings, with starter Troy Newell allowing a two-run homerun to Geordon Blanton in the second frame and the Hilltoppers answering back with two of their own two frames later.

Right fielder Jake Sanford led off with a solo homerun to left-center field on the first pitch he saw from reliever Ryan Falls. It was his 16th dinger of the year, including his eighth against C-USA competition.

Marshall scored two in the bottom of the fifth, knocking Newell out of the game after 4.2 frames after allowing four runs — three earned — on six hits and four walks, although the lefty did strike out five.

Sanford started the top of the sixth with a double to right-center, and he scored on a Lambert single to center with two outs. Up next, third baseman Nick Brunson gave WKU a 5-4 lead when he smacked a double over the right fielder’s head to score Lambert and freshman center fielder Jackson Swiney, who worked a six-pitch walk to extend the frame.

Reliever Bailey Sutton — who came in to strand a pair of Thundering Herd runners the inning prior — was charged with six unearned runs when he allowed three-straight two-out hits by the hosts, who took a 10-5 lead. The exclamation point being a three-run homerun by Rey Pastrana.

Catcher Matt Phipps brought the Hilltoppers back to 10-7 when he roped a two-out, two-run single in the top of the seventh that scored Sanford and designated hitter Dillon Nelson.

But that’s the closest the visitors would get, as the offense was shut out for the final two frames. Elvis Peralta added a solo homerun to make the score 11-7, where it would end at 2:28 p.m. with the potential tying run for WKU in the on-deck circle.

Game 2 Things got going quickly for the Hilltoppers, when starter Zac McNeel walked three of the first four batters to begin the contest. After an early mound visit, freshman center fielder Jackson Swiney lined a two-run single into center field. Shortstop Kevin Lambert followed with an RBI hit through the left side of the infield and it was a 3-0 lead for WKU.

Making his first start of the season, righty Joe Filosa retired the first six Marshall batters. The Thundering Herd opened the third frame with back-to-back hits, but only pushed one across the plate as the score was cut to 3-1.

In the fourth, however, the hosts used four-consecutive two-out RBI hits to score five runs against Filosa to take a 6-3 lead. In came righty Hunter Crosby to get the final out of the crooked inning, then posted a zero in the next frame. The freshman ran into some trouble in the sixth, when Eric Rodriguez hit a two-run single and Elvis Peralta knocked a solo homerun and the WKU deficit ballooned to 9-3.

The top of the seventh that followed was when the rally started for the Hilltoppers.

Lambert drove in right fielder Jake Sanford with a one-out double that also moved Swiney to third. After pinch hitter Sam McElreath was hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs, a throwing error by Hunter Sexton extended the inning and scored one run to make it a 9-5 score.

Back to the top of the lineup — with the bases still loaded — second baseman Jack Wilson lined a two-run single into left-center, which set the table for Richard Constantine.

The first baseman came into the plate appearance 0-for-8 on the day, but blasted a 1-0 pitch from Sexton way over the wall in left-center to give WKU an improbable 10-9 lead. It was the fourth homerun of the season for the Huntsville, Ala., native, all of them coming in the past six games.

Although Andrew Zban evened the score at 10-10 on a solo homerun against righty Jacob Green in the bottom half of the frame, it was a short-lived tie.

Swiney hit a ground-rule double to open the eighth inning, then Lambert knocked him in once again with an RBI single. With Hilltopper runners all over the base paths, a Wilson walk with the bases loaded and an RBI single by designated hitter Dillon Nelson sandwiched run-scoring ground outs by Constantine and Sanford to give the visitors a five-spot in the eighth and a 15-10 advantage.

Each team added one more run, but Green closed out the Thundering Herd over the final 3.1 frames and secured WKU’s 16-11 getaway win in a contest that lasted 4:09.

Topper Notes For the day, Sanford and Brunson each went 5-for-9 at the plate with two extra-base knocks while producing multi-hit efforts in both games. In addition to those two, Wilson, Nelson and Swiney each reached base at least five times. Righty Reese Brewer fired a scoreless eighth inning in Game 1, keeping the junior’s earned run average at a spotless 0.00 through 4.2 frames across seven appearances.

Topper Quotes “We’re down 9-3 in the seventh inning in the back end of a doubleheader and we just kept battling. We pulled into the park [10 hours ago] at 9 a.m. today and played 27 innings in less than 24 hours. Our concentration and focus were awesome, we stayed the course and found a way to walk out of here with a win, which is so important in this league.” — Head coach John Pawlowski. “You want to find a way to come out with a win somehow, and it’s a good feeling … Our mindset was the stay within our approach, get guys on and just keep doing our job like we’ve been doing all year. My approach all day was really trying to let the ball get deep and drive it to right field, but then I also got a few pitches middle-in that I turned on.” — Senior Nick Brunson.

Up Next With a 16-17-1 overall record, the Hilltoppers face Belmont in midweek for the second time in eight days. WKU will travel down to Nashville, Tenn., for a 4 p.m. first pitch on Tuesday, April 16. The 16-19 Bruins also dropped 2-of-3 over the weekend at Jacksonville State, wrapping up their three-game Ohio Valley Conference with a doubleheader on Saturday.