BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — With the game-winning run on third base in the bottom of the ninth inning, Grayson Ivey smacked a pinch-hit double to the center field wall to score Marshall Smith and give WKU Baseball a 3-2 victory vs. Belmont on Tuesday afternoon at Nick Denes Field. It was the Hilltoppers’ second walk-off of the young season, 18 days after Kaleb Duckworth’s two-run homerun on Opening Day.
In his first career start, Wyatt Featherston worked a six-pitch walk and was replaced by Smith as a pinch runner, who stole second base on the first pitch to Tyler Robertson. Also making his first start as a Hilltopper, Robertson then put down a sacrifice bunt to move Smith to third base. After fouling off three pitches and taking a ball, Ivey drove the fifth pitch of the at-bat over the Bruins’ center fielder’s head and was rushed by his teammates in left field.
The swing capped another solid pitching performance from WKU (5-8), led by Evan Acosta. The lefty bounced back from his first career start at Kentucky six days prior to spin seven innings of two-run ball. Acosta threw only 99 pitches and struck out five – compared to only four hits and one walk. Logan Weins (0.2) and Conner Boyd (1.1) finished the final two frames for the Hilltoppers, with Boyd picking up his first career win.
Thomas Peter had a pair of doubles and reached base in his two other plate appearances – via walk and hit by pitch – in the contest, scoring WKU’s first run in the fourth inning when Hunter Wood followed the right fielder’s two-bagger with a double of his own. Featherston and Robertson combined for the team’s second run of the contest, beginning the fifth inning with a double and single to tie the game, 2-2, where it would stay until Ivey came up to bat just over 60 minutes later.
1. Grayson Ivey’s first successful pinch hit for the Hilltoppers in six tries was a special one. After starting his WKU career 1-for-14, he has gone 3-for-9 in his past five games with two doubles, three walks and four runs batted in. Ivey missed the 2016 season while recovering from injuries suffered when he was struck by a car in his hometown of Winder, Georgia, and his comeback story added another chapter against the Bruins today.
2. For the third time in the last four games, the Hilltoppers had a starting pitcher go at least seven innings and allow three or fewer runs. Ryan Thurston and Paul Kirkpatrick were the first two, and were matched Tuesday afternoon by Evan Acosta. The bullpen posted a scoreless effort for the fourth time this season, as WKU improved to 4-1 in one-run contests.
3. As a part of that bullpen, Conner Boyd finally allowed his first baserunner of the season. However, it was an error on shortstop Kevin Lambert. During the next at-bat, Hunter Wood threw out the Belmont (5-7) baserunner on a steal attempt and Boyd retired Brennan Washington on the following pitch. Through seven appearances and five complete innings, Boyd has struck out five and faced the minimum.
Play of the Day
Evan Acosta’s performance as a whole was key to WKU’s first midweek victory of the year. He threw 67-of-99 pitches for strikes and produced 1-2-3 innings in 3-of-7 innings on the day. Hunter Wood’s arm mowed down 2-of-3 Bruins’ base-stealers, and the backstop now boasts a 44-percent caught-stealing mark (7-of-16) thus far.
What’s Up Next
Exactly 24 hours after Tuesday’s first pitch, the Hilltoppers’ leadoff hitter will step into the box at Earle Combs Stadium at 3 p.m. CT in Richmond, Kentucky. WKU goes up against Eastern Kentucky in the first of a home-and-home series on the season, which will see the Colonels visit Nick Denes Field on May 2. Starting pitchers are TBA.
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