Junior right fielder Jake Sanford’s three line drive extra-base hits got WKU Baseball to extra-innings, but it was his strikeout in the 10th that allowed the Hilltoppers to pull out a 5-4 victory over NKU on Saturday afternoon at Nick Denes Field. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia native accounted for four of the team’s five runs on the day, scoring the game-winning tally on a bases-loaded error by the Norse shortstop with the bases loaded.
Sanford went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, three runs scored and one batted in. His performance comes a day after his 2-for-3 day with a double, two walks, three runs batted in and one scored in the 9-6 victory on Opening Day.
Righty Bailey Sutton started for WKU, pitching 3.2 innings with four strikeouts, allowing two runs on six hits and one walk, while throwing 39-of-59 pitches for strikes. Making his return from an injury that forced him to miss the entire 2018 season, it was the first game action at Nick Denes Field for Sutton since May 14, 2017; a span of 643 days.
Trailing 2-0 in the top of the fourth, Sutton loaded the bases with two outs and head coach John Pawlowski called to the bullpen for righty Kenny LaPierre. The junior started out 3-0 on the NKU batter Will Haueter before coming back to freeze him on a 3-2 pitch with a fastball on the black and strand all three runners.
LaPierre would go on to complete 4.1 frames with five strikeouts, the only blemish to his run total being a solo homerun allowed to Noah Fisher of NKU.
The Hilltoppers scored their first run in the fourth inning, when Sanford tripled and catcher Matt Phipps brought him home with an RBI ground out. Sanford brought in third baseman Davis Sims with a double in the sixth to cut it to a 3-2 WKU deficit, which would last until the bottom of the eighth.
Again, Sanford got things started with a leadoff double. A Phipps single into right field put runners on the corners for first baseman Jack Wilson, who grounded his first Hilltopper hit through the left side to score Sanford and tie the game at 3-3.
Following a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Kevin Lambert to move both runners into scoring position, freshman center fielder Jackson Swiney hit a high pop up into shallow center field. It was caught by the lunging NKU shortstop Collin Luty, and Phipps scurried home to put the Hilltoppers ahead, 4-3.
Collin Lollar came on for the save, but was unable to close it out as the Norse tied the game 4-4 to send the game into extra innings. Lollar did stay on and work a scoreless 10th, giving the offense an opportunity for the walk-off.
Sanford led off with a strikeout, but as the breaking ball eluded NKU catcher Jayden Wakeham, Sanford hustled to first base and slid in safe. Phipps followed and was hit by on a 2-1 pitch. After a wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position, Wilson was intentionally walked to bring up Lambert – and bring in the infield – with the bases loaded and zero outs.
He chopped a 1-0 pitch to Luty, who muffed the grounder and was unable to make the throw to home plate as Sanford slid in with the game-winning run. Lambert was mobbed by his teammates down the first-base line as the WKU fight song played over the speaker in the outfield and Guthrie Tower struck at 4 p.m.
- It was the first extra-inning win for the Hilltoppers since they defeated FIU in a 3-2, 12-frame game on April 30, 2016; the same day that lefty Ryan Thurston pitched a program-record 10 innings. WKU had lost seven-straight extra-inning contests since then.
- WKU has put up a 2-0 record to begin the season for the second time in the past three years. The Hilltoppers defeated Valparaiso by scores of 6-5 and 4-3 to start the 2017 campaign at Nick Denes Field.
- Sanford’s slash line of .625/.700/1.250 leads the Hilltoppers through the first two games, as do his four extra-base hits, four runs scored and five batted in.
- After striking out 11 Norse batters on Opening Day, the WKU pitching staff recorded 12 strikeouts on Saturday. In 2018, the Hilltoppers struck out the opposition 10-plus times in 19-of-52 games, while striking out the opposition 10-plus times in back-to-back games on four occasions.
- The WKU pitching staff threw 102-of-161 (63.4 percent) pitches for strikes, while the NKU hurlers threw 102-of-156 (65.4 percent) pitches in the zone.
Up NextGame 3 of the series between WKU and NKU will be played on Sunday, Feb. 17 with first pitch from Nick Denes Field at 1 p.m. In 2018, the Hilltoppers were 1-1 on Sunday’s when trying to complete a series sweep.How to Follow the Hilltoppers: For complete information on WKU Hilltopper Baseball, follow the program via social media @WKUBaseball on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.
Assistant Director of Media Relations
WKU Hilltopper Athletics