Four Hilltoppers recorded multi-hit days as WKU Softball swept its third-straight Conference USA series with Sunday’s 10-2 six-inning series finale win over Florida Atlantic. Jordan Thomas, Shannon Plese, Jordan Vorbrink and Paige Carter all tallied two-hit games while Kendall Smith and Carter each recorded multi-RBI outings in the Red and White’s 11th-straight win.
“I thought we came out and responded really well today after winning today games yesterday,” head coach Amy Tudor opened. “We adjusted to FAU’s pitcher our second time through the order and that’s all you can ask for your hitters to do. I thought when Kelsey Aikey came into the game she did a great job in the circle and brought some intensity. She helped pick us up.”
Overall, the Hilltoppers now sit at 26-5 while improving to 9-0 in C-USA action. WKU is the only remaining unbeaten team in the league. Florida Atlantic dropped to 15-18 on the season and 3-6 after suffering the series sweep. The last time WKU swept FAU was during the 2013 campaign.
After Florida Atlantic scored in its opening trip to the plate, WKU answered right back in the bottom of the frame. Thomas reached base after an errant throw by the Owls and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Rebekah Engelhardt. Two batters later, Smith connected for a two-run home run off the third level of the parking structure in left field to give the Hilltoppers a 2-1 lead.
“When Kendall hit that two-run home run, it really changed the momentum for us,” Tudor said of Smith’s shot. “Anytime you can hit one off the third story of the parking structure it sends a big message and I thought that was a game-changer for us because everyone else built off of it.”
Smith’s longball was her seventh of the season, matching Engelhardt for the team high.
Starting pitcher Shelby Nunn went back out for the second but after two walks, an error and an FAU hit, the Owls evened the game at 2-2 before WKU could get back to the dugout.
Kelsey Aikey took over the in the top of the third and after a leadoff single to shallow left-center field would go on to retire the next seven Owl batters.
WKU’s bats gave Aikey all the run support she would need to pick up her sixth-straight win as the Hilltoppers would strike for five runs in the bottom of the third. The Red and White took care of the little things with three hits, three stolen bases and four walks in combination with a pair of FAU errors in the frame. Plese, Carter and Thomas accounted for the trio of Hilltopper hits.
“I thought we created chaos on the bases,” Tudor said of the Hilltoppers. “FAU has a really good catcher but I thought our approach to how we were going to run the bases this was superb.”
Plese accounted for two of the Hilltoppers’ three stolen bases in the frame, including a swipe of home to make the score 4-2 in favor of WKU. The redshirt-senior leads the team with 14 stolen bases this season.
“While we’re not the fastest team, we’re really smart on the bases,” Shannon Plese added. “We’re willing to take chances and I think that’s such a huge part of base running. I think just everybody having that aggressive approach has been key this season.”
After scoreless fourth and fifth frames from both dugouts, the Hilltoppers stranded a pair of Owls on the bases in the top of the sixth as Vorbrink gunned down an FAU runner at the plate for the final out.
In the bottom of the sixth, Maddie Bowlds and Thomas got the Hilltoppers going with back-to-back base hits for two of WKU’s four hits in the frame. Plese would follow with a one-out single back up middle to load the bases. All three runners would advance a bag on a passed ball, giving WKU an 8-2 advantage as Thomas touched the plate. After Smith drew her third walk since hitting the parking structure, Kennedy Sullivan reached on an error that doubled as a sacrifice fly to score Engelhardt. FAU would secure the second out with a force play at the plate before Carter connected for her second run-rule walk off hit of the season with a base hit to the left-center gap to score Smith.
Entering the game in a 2-2 tie in the top of the third, Aikey tossed the day’s final four innings to earn the win while holding the Owls scoreless. Aikey improved to 8-3 (4-0 C-USA) on the season while allowing just two hits and three walks while striking out five.
“Our pitchers have been fantastic,” Kendall Smith shared of the Hilltopper staff. “I’m very proud of them, they are working hard every day in practice and even outside of it.”
WKU out-hit Florida Atlantic 10-5 in the decision and did not suffer a strikeout in the series finale. The Hilltoppers’ leadoff batters reached on 5-for-6 occasions when leading off an inning.
“I think we’ve done a good job with taking our schedule game by game,” Tudor said of the team’s mentality through the 11-game win streak. “We’ve continued to learn from every game that we play. The team’s been focused while still having fun along the way and everyone’s buying in.”
WKU’s 11-game win streak dates back to its C-USA opener at FIU on Saturday, March 16. The stretch surpasses the squad’s 10-straight wins achieved from Feb. 8 through March 8. Eleven games in the longest win streak during Coach Tudor’s tenure on The Hill and is the best mark since WKU won 12-straight games from April 10 – April 24 during the 2013 campaign.
“We’ve had those win streaks and gotten complacent so we know what it’s like to have all those wins and then drop a game. We are working hard every practice knowing what it’s like to accomplish all of that and then get complacent; we are not willing to do that at this point. We are preparing for one game at a time so when we get to that game we know that we’ve done everything we can to prepare for those players and that team.”
NEXT TIME OUT: Taking a break from Conference USA action, WKU will host Louisville for a midweek matchup on Wednesday on The Hill. First pitch is slated for 5 p.m. CT from the WKU Softball Complex and the game will be streamed live on CUSA.tv.
WKU Athletic Communications/Media Relations