HATTIESBURG, Miss. – After 21 innings of softball across two upset victories on the
first day of the Conference USA Tournament, WKU is back in the semifinals for the
first time since the 2015 campaign. Eighth-seeded WKU opened the day with a
12-inning 12-7 win over No. 5-seed UAB before coming from behind to take down No.
4-seeded Florida Atlantic, 6-5, in nine innings.
“I think it’s huge,” head coach Amy Tudor said of the day’s opening win. “We had
nine freshman on the team who have never been here and it’s a new experience for
them. Momentum is everything and we want to take that into the next game against
Kelsey McGuffin led the way for the Hilltoppers (29-27) going 7-for-10 at the dish.
Eight Red and White players registered multiple hits on the day including Adarian
Gray, who recorded a team-best six RBI across the games.
WKU’s 21 innings across two games is a program record and is the second-most innings
played in a day in program history. The 12-inning game also ties for the
second-longest game in program history.
Florida Atlantic (35-21) was the C-USA Tournament champion last season. The
Hilltoppers’ come-from-behind victory over the Owls was the Red and White’s 13th of
the sort on the year.
GAME 55: WKU 12, UAB 7 (12)
After holding UAB scoreless in the Blazers’ first trip to the plate, WKU struck in
the top of the second inning. Rebekah Engelhardt drew a lead-off walk before moving
to second on a Morgan McElroy sacrifice bunt. At that point, Taylor Proctor stepped
up to the plate and shot a single to right-center field to bring Engelhardt around
to score from second for a 1-0 WKU lead.
In the top of the third inning, McGuffin led off with a double off the wall in
left-center field before Brittany Vaughn took a pitch to the leg in exchange for
first base. Jordan Mauch went on to reach on a fielder’s choice as the Blazers used
the force at third for the first out of the inning. Kara Brewer went on to move the
runners on a sacrifice bunt before Engelhardt sent the seventh pitch of her at bat
out of the park for a three-run home run down the left-field line.
Engelhardt’s home run, her fourth of the season, and same of her career, gave WKU a
4-0 lead in the contest.
UAB responded in the bottom of the third inning, plating a pair of runners of its
own to cut the Hilltoppers’ lead in half at 4-2. Following a scoreless fourth inning
by both sides, WKU saw Engelhardt score her third run of the day after a passed ball
by the UAB catcher.
The Blazers’ matched WKU’s run in the frame after a shot to the fence plated a
runner. The Haylee Towers to Vaughn to Proctor relay was in time to throw the second
Blazer runner out at the plate and save a run.
Both sides held the other scoreless in the sixth inning before the Hilltoppers built
on their lead in the top of the seventh. Proctor sent her fourth hit of the day
through the left side with one out to get things going in the inning. Adarian Gray
sent the next pitch of the game out of the park for her eighth home run of the
season and a 7-3 Hilltopper lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, UAB mounted a four-run comeback as the Blazers batted
through their order to tie the game and send it to extra innings.
Kelsey Aikey came in to relieve Kathryn Downing in the circle after Downing tossed
the first 7.0 innings with three strikeouts. Aikey came in and sat down the first
eight Blazer batters she faced before allowing a hit and a walk in the bottom of the
10th inning. Aikey manned the circle for the final 5.0 innings allowing just one hit
while shutting the Blazers out to move to 7-3 on the year.
Brewer started things in the top of the 12th with a one-out single up the middle
before moving to third on a McElroy single. Proctor went on to get hit by a pitch to
reach base for the fifth time to load the bases and bring up Gray with two outs. The
freshman delivered a clutch bases-clearing double to give WKU a 10-7 lead. Carter
followed with a single to bring Gray around before McGuffin knocked a single to
plate Carter for the 12-7 advantage.
After UAB lead off the bottom of the 12th with a walk, the next two batter grounded
into fielder’s choices before the final out came on a grounder to McElroy at second
WKU recorded a base runner in all 12 innings of the contest. Both McGuffin and
Proctor went 4-for-6 on the day while Carter, Mauch, Brewer and Gray all added
two-hit outings as well. Gray finished with five RBI to lead the Hilltoppers while
Engelhardt added three of her own.
“I thought it was a battle between us and UAB,” Tudor shared post game. “Their kids
fought and our kids fought but we came out on top. Pudge [Adarian Gray] had a very
clutch at bat with that double. We gave ourselves a lot of opportunities to score
runs and it just didn’t come through. Kelsey Aikey, the freshman, came in and shut
it down and we were able to make some great plays behind her.”
GAME 56: WKU 6, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 5 (9)
Looking for a second upset on the day, WKU Softball forced another extra-inning game
against fifth-seeded Florida Atlantic. FAU got on the scoreboard first in the bottom
of the third to take a 1-0 lead. That score held through four innings with the help
of Haylee Towers’ five strikeouts in that time.
WKU responded in the top of the fifth with a run on a Gray sacrifice fly to plate
Engelhardt. FAU would strike back in the bottom of the frame and take a 4-1 lead.
The Hilltoppers were able to get two runs back in the top of the next frame after
Vaughn and McElroy knocked RBI singles.
In the top of the seventh with two outs, Vaughn sent a sacrifice fly deep to
centerfield to score a tagging Proctor from third base to knot the game at 4-4. In
the bottom of the frame, Vaughn would make a diving snag into foul territory to get
the second out of the inning.
Starting in the bottom of the seventh, the next nine outs went by without a run by
either dugout with a 4-4 tie.
In the 21st inning of WKU Softball on the day and ninth inning of the game, WKU
plated two runs to take the lead for good. Carter led off with a double off the wall
in left field. McGuffin followed with a single to center field that brought Carter
around to score. Vaughn followed suit and knocked a double to left-center field to
score McGuffin from second for the 6-4 advantage.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, FAU notched a triple and the runner
eventually scored on a sacrifice fly before WKU registered the final out as Carter
gloved a fly ball in right field.
Downing picked up the victory to move to 16-12 on the year after spinning 4.2
innings in the game. The senior allowed one run on four hits during her time in the
circle in the second contest.
WKU will take on No. 23 and top-seeded Marshall in a 2 p.m. CT game on Thursday from
Hattiesburg. The Hilltoppers will play again Friday regardless of the outcome
against the Thundering Herd as double elimination begins in the semifinals.
“We’re hoping to get dinner and some sleep,” Tudor shared postgame. “That’s our goal
and we’ll face Marshall tomorrow. They have a very good team, but you never know.”
How to Follow the Hilltoppers: For complete information on WKU Softball, follow the
team on Twitter at @WKUSoftball, Instagram @WKU_Softball and Facebook @WKUSoftball.