Junior pitcher Kelsey Aikey entered Sunday’s game in the top of the sixth with a two-run lead and proceeded to get the Hilltoppers out of a bases-loaded no-out jam with three-straight strikeouts while allowing just one run. In the top of the seventh, Western Illinois led off with a base hit before Aikey and the Red and White defense went on lockdown to preserve the 7-6 WKU Softball victory. Aikey matched the program record with her seventh career save with the performance as the Hilltoppers improved to 6-2 on the season.
“Aikey is rare for me in that she loves to close games, and that mentality is something she’s had since her freshman year. She embraces that role. That’s the hard thing about pitching, when they come in they’re ready to be starters. In baseball, you have closers and starters and they’re both equally important, but in softball sometimes those roles aren’t viewed the same even though they are both crucial pieces. It’s the last innings of the game, it’s absolutely important; it’s crunch time and that kid craves crunch time.”
The Hilltoppers were the first to score in Sunday’s rubber match, putting up five runs in the bottom of the second inning. Kennedy Sullivan, who started in the designated player slot but also pitched 2.2 innings and got the win, opened the scoring with an RBI-double off the centerfield wall to score Jordan Vorbrink. Three batters later with the bases loaded, WKU scored a pair of runs when Western Illinois’ pitcher flipped to the catcher for the force out at home but the backstop’s foot never touched the plate as the Hilltoppers continued to run the bases. Shannon Plese kept things going with a double to left field to bring home two more WKU runners.
Western Illinois responded in the top of the third with a trio of runs to cut into the Red and White’s lead before tying the game an inning later.
Entering the bottom of the fourth all tied at 5-5, Morgan McElroy reached on an error before Kelsey McGuffin came in to pinch run. After a Taylor Davis sacrifice bunt moved McGuffin into scoring position, Plese struck for a single to left field that allowed McGuffin to score the go-ahead run.
WKU added its final run in the bottom of the fifth after Vorbrink sent a one-out single to left field before Cassidy Blackford came in to pinch run for her. Blackford advanced to second on a groundout before McElroy sent a triple to right-center field for what became the game-winning hit.
Back in the field for the top of the sixth, the Hilltoppers got into a jam before Aikey took over in the circle and went on to shut it down. The junior picked up her second save of the season with the 2.0-inning, one-hit, four-strikeout outing.
“I thought through adversity we fought back this weekend,” head coach Amy Tudor shared. “That’s one thing that I’m proud of as the coach, when we weren’t playing our best ball but still came out and competed. I thought we did that we at the circle, in the field and at the plate.”
Sullivan earned her fifth win of the season, moving to 5-0, after WKU scored their sixth and seventh runs with her on the rubber. Sullivan worked 2.2 innings after relieving Shelby Nunn who tossed 2.1 frames.
Plese finished 2-for-3 at the plate while registering three RBI, a walk, a double and a stolen base. Thomas found a way on base in 3-of-4 plate appearances on the day.
While the Hilltopper squad was outhit by the Leathernecks 11-7, WKU was able to strand 12 WIU base runners on base while leaving just six of their own out there. As a team, WKU went 5-for-12 (.417) with runners in scoring position while holding Western Illinois to a .167 clip including an 0-for-4 reading with the bases loaded.
NEXT GAME: WKU will stay home on The Hill for its next five games with the WKU Hilltopper Classic scheduled for next weekend. Butler, Cleveland State and Indiana State will visit the WKU Softball Complex for the three-day outing.
WKU Athletic Communications/Media Relations