CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A career-best nine strikeouts off the arm of Kelsey Aikey combined
with timely Hilltopper hitting propelled WKU Softball into the Conference USA
Championship semifinals for the second-straight season before a loss to preseason
favorite Louisiana Tech ended the Red and White’s 2018 campaign. Eighth-seeded WKU
upended No. 5 seed Marshall in a 5-2 decision before the Lady Techsters took down
the Hilltoppers 6-1.
WKU closed the season with a 28-26 record after the split results on the day.
Louisiana Tech improved to 35-21 and will face top-seeded Florida Atlantic on
Haylee Towers and Kendall Smith each collected three hits across the day, both
posting 3-for-6 postseason outings. Senior Brittany Vaughn (8) and freshman Jordan
Thomas (6) each connected with home runs in the day’s first contest.
GAME 53: #8 WKU 5, #5 MARSHALL 2
WKU wasted no time getting on the board scoring a pair of runs in the Hilltoppers
first trip to the plate. Maddie Bowlds got the offense started by beating out a
one-out infield single before Brittany Vaughn blasted her eighth home run of the
season. It looked like Marshall might respond in the bottom of the first after a
leadoff single but Kendall Smith gunned down the attempted steal. The Thundering
Herd ended up getting a pair of runners of via hit by pitches but Aikey responded
with a pair of strikeouts to get the Red and White out of the jam.
Aikey continued to dominate in the bottom of the second, extending her streak to
four-consecutive strikeouts. Marshall ended the streak with a single through the
left side before one of Aikey’s two walks on the day, but the righty ace gloved a
liner to get the Hilltoppers back on offense. At the plate for the top of the third,
Jordan Thomas led off with a solo home run to push WKU’s advantage to a 3-0 margin.
Marshall took advantage of two hits and its second walk of the game in the bottom of
the third to get on the board on an RBI single. WKU added its final two runs of the
game in the top of the fourth inning. Haylee Towers dropped a perfect bunt single
before advancing to second on a throwing error. Towers scored Jordan Vorbrink and
advanced Kendall Smith around to third with the RBI play. Two batters later, Kelsey
McGuffin had a home run robbed at the wall by the Marshall center fielder but
settled for the RBI sacrifice fly as Smith scored.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Thundering Herd had a two-on, one-out situation but
Aikey picked up another strikeout before handling a grounder and firing to first to
get the Hilltoppers back to the dugout.
Paige Carter opened the top of the seventh with a pinch-hit single up the middle but
a fielder’s choice replaced her on base with Thomas. Bowlds reached on a fielding
error to move Thomas into scoring position but both ended up stranded.
Marshall saw the C-USA Freshman of the Year lead off the top of the seventh with a
solo home run but that’s all the Thundering Herd would end up with. For the second
game in a row, Aikey closed the contest with a swinging strikeout.
Aikey finished with a new career-high nine punchouts in the game and improved to
12-9 on the season. With the help of her defense, Aikey stranded 11 Marshall runners
on base after the Thundering Herd outhit WKU 10-7. Seven different Hilltoppers
accounted for hits in the contest.
GAME 54: #4 LA TECH 6 | #8 WKU 1
WKU’s second game of the day started with Thomas drawing her 40th walk of the season
– what will stand as a new single-season Hilltopper record. Vaughn also drew a walk
but a Lady Techster double play ended the Red and White’s threat.
Louisiana Tech opened its first game in Charlotte with a single followed by two
fielder’s choice plays. However, the arm of Smith and tag by Vaughn caught the home
squad’s runner attempting to steal and got WKU back to the dugout.
Rebekah Engelhardt and Towers singled in the top of the second – the first of two
hits for both Hilltoppers in the contest – but the runners ended up stranded again.
In the bottom of the second, the Lady Techsters posted their first of back-to-back
three run frames to account for all of their scoring. With a pair of errors, only
four of LA Tech’s six runs were earned.
WKU scored its lone run in the top of the sixth after Engelhardt knocked a two-out
base hit to left center. Smith followed with a double that went to fence in left
center that allowed Engelhardt to score all the way from first.
Shelby Nunn took the loss throwing 6.0 frames. The freshman finished the year with a
15-15 record in the circle.