WKU Baseball had two walk-off wins earlier this season on an error and balk; the Hilltoppers’ third was of a more exciting variety.
Right fielder Jake Sanford hit a solo homerun to left-center field in the bottom of the ninth inning to give WKU a 5-4 victory over visiting UAB on Friday night at Nick Denes Field, as the Hilltoppers started the Conference USA portion of their schedule 1-0.
WKU got ahead early, scoring one run in the first, one in the second and two more in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead, which held through five frames.
Designated hitter Dillon Nelson and shortstop Kevin Lambert each had RBI hits, while infielder Sam McElreath had a run-scoring ground out that brought in the second run and an RBI double that pushed the Hilltoppers’ lead to four.
Righty Eric Crawford held the Blazers scoreless through five innings — on only 59 pitches — but got into trouble in the sixth. He walked back-to-back hitters with one out, followed by a double steal and a two-run single by left fielder Colton Schultz.
Lefty Dalton Shoemake relieved Crawford from the bullpen and got the final two outs of the sixth, but allowed two runs himself in the seventh as UAB tied the game at 4-4. After two quick outs, a walk and infield single put a pair of runners on, another double steal put them into scoring position. Then this time it was center fielder Jess Davis that came through for the Blazers with a two-run single.
But Shoemake rebounded for a 1-2-3 top of the eighth and two strikeouts to begin the ninth. He was pulled, however, after allowing a single up the middle. Two batters later with the bases loaded, righty Joe Filosa won a seven-pitch at-bat against Schultz, getting the lefty to strike out swinging to keep the score knotted and give WKU an opportunity to win the game.
Sanford did just that on a 2-1 pitch from righty Ryan Wesson, launching his fifth homerun of the season to send the Hilltoppers into a frenzy, snapping a seven-game losing streak in style with a 5-4, walk-off win.
- It was the first walk-off homerun for WKU since Kaleb Duckworth’s two-run shot on Opening Day 2017 to give the Hilltoppers a 6-5 victory over Valparaiso.
- The Hilltoppers improved to 4-1 in one-run games, the other three wins being the two other walk-offs — 5-4 vs. Northern Kentucky on Feb. 16 and 10-9 vs. Eastern Illinois on Feb. 24 — as well as a 5-4 victory over the Panthers in the second game of a doubleheader on Feb. 24.
- Nelson’s RBI double in the first frame gave WKU a 1-0 lead, the team’s first in the month of March. The Hilltoppers are 5-1 when scoring first this season and have not lost a game when leading after the conclusion of any inning.
- In the process, Nelson extended his hit streak to a career-high five games, which is now a team-best. Infielder Davis Sims boasted an 11-game hit streak coming into the game, but went 0-for-4 in the contest. Sims did, however, get hit by pitch in the third inning to extend his on-base streak to 12.
- Infielder Jack Wilson was a perfect 2-for-2 at the plate with a walk and hit by pitch, reaching base in all four plate appearances. He pushed his team-leading batting average and on-base percentage to .396 and .500, respectively. Wilson produced his team-best seventh multi-hit game of the season and was a perfect 6-for-6 in fielding chances.
- McElreath went 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, his first multi-hit and multi-RBI game since Feb. 27 vs. Murray State.
- With Crawford’s 5.1 innings pitched, the Hilltoppers are 3-0 this season when getting five-plus innings out of their starting pitchers.
- Filosa earned his first win at WKU and pushed his collegiate win total to 16; he earned 15 victories in 50 appearances at Ohio Dominican from 2015-18.
- WKU held UAB to four runs. The Hilltoppers are 6-3 this season when holding opponents to six or fewer runs.
- WKU had five extra-base hits compared to zero for UAB. The Hilltoppers are 6-3 this season when opponents do not hit a homerun.
- “I thought our team did a great job of holding the line. We were up 4-0 and give UAB credit, they battled back into this thing. But our guys, they were resolved to the fact that we weren’t giving in and kept battling. What a great moment for a team that has really worked hard over the past two weeks. We hadn’t been able to see the success we wanted to, but great win for the Tops tonight, really proud of what we did.” — Head coach John Pawlowski.
- “I give our pitchers a lot of credit, they hung in there. We desperately needed a start and Eric Crawford, I knew what he was capable of, he went out and did a great job. Dalton Shoemake too, and then Joe Filosa with a huge strikeout there to end the top of the ninth.” — Head coach John Pawlowski.
- “I was just thinking drive the ball in the gap and try to get it started, but when I hit it I knew right away … It was really good to get back into it, it’s like a new season right now; we need to start off strong and continue to go through with it.” — Right fielder Jake Sanford.
Up NextWKU and UAB will play Game 2 on Saturday with first pitch at 1 p.m. Starting pitchers for both teams are TBA at this time.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