BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A combined one-hit shutout by Shelby Nunn and Kelsey Aikey was
followed up with a career-high 17-strikeout gem off the arm of Kennedy Sullivan as
WKU Softball picked up two more wins from the Samford Invitational. The day’s first
contest saw WKU win 4-0 over Jackson State (2-19) before the Hilltoppers took care
of weekend host Samford (6-15), 8-1. Two wins extended the Red and White’s win
streak to eight straight while the squad improved to 13-2 on the 2019 campaign.
“I felt like our circle was strong all weekend,” head coach Amy Tudor opened. “All
three of our pitchers did an excellent job and when your circle is strong, your team
is strong. It helps give the offense some breathing room and I thought we did a
great job in all facets of the game.”
Sullivan’s 17-strikeout performance came a day after the freshman tossed a no hitter
against Evansville and less than a week after a 16-strikeout outing against Butler.
Seventeen punchouts is the fifth-most ever recorded by a Hilltopper and the
second-most ever registered in a regulation-length game.
Across the team’s three games from Birmingham on the weekend, the pitching staff
gave up just one run, three hits and five walks while posting a collective 35
WKU 4, JACKSON STATE 0
WKU Softball rode a combined one-hitter from Shelby Nunn and Kelsey Aikey to a 4-0
victory over Jackson State to open play on Saturday from the Samford Invitational.
Nunn worked 5.0 innings while allowing just one hit with no walks and five
strikeouts to move to 3-0 on the season. Aikey worked the game’s final two frame,
racking up five punchouts as well including four in the top of the seventh after a
dropped third strike.
Jordan Vorbrink led off the bottom of the third with a double to the right-center
gap before Jordan Thomas sent a single to right field to bring her home for the 1-0
WKU lead. Kendall Smith followed suit in the bottom of the fourth with another
double before Tommi Stowers drew a walk. Paige Carter moved the runners on an RBI
groundout to short stop before Sullivan did that same thing to push the Hilltoppers’
lead to 3-0.
Shannon Plese led off the bottom of the sixth by beating out a bunt single before
stealing second and third base and ultimately scoring on a wild pitch for the final
“Winning is contagious,” Tudor said of the day’s opening win. “Our attitudes are
great at the plate, in the field and even in the dugout and having that healthy
environment makes all the difference in the world. All weekend, we saw a great team
effort. I’m confident in us at the plate, in the field and from the circle.”
WKU 8, SAMFORD 1
The Hilltoppers took care of business in their first trip to the plate in the day’s
second tilt from the Samford Softball Field. Thomas led things off with a walk in
her first of two plate appearances in the frame before moving all the way around to
third when Rebekah Engelhardt reached second after a base hit and throwing error.
During Plese’s at bat, both base runners advanced 60 feet on a wild pitch, giving
the Red and White a 1-0 lead with no outs. From there, Plese reached safely on a
fielder’s choice that saw Engelhardt score. Smith followed with a double before
Stowers walked to load the bases. Paige Carter and Kennedy Sullivan each followed
with sacrifice flies to advance all runners a bag and give WKU a 4-0 lead. Taylor
Davis kept thing rolling with a two-out RBI base hit up the middle to plate Stowers
for the fifth run of the frame.
Sullivan picked up a pair of strikeouts in the bottom of the first – as she did in
every frame – while allowing a base hit and a walk in the frame. The rookie got the
Hilltoppers back to the dugout with a swinging strikeout, beginning a stretch of
six-straight batters retired with a punchout. The strikeout also began a stretch of
12-consecutive Samford batters retired by Sullivan and the Hilltopper defense before
the Bulldogs were able to draw a walk.
By the end of the fourth inning, Sullivan had struck out every Samford batter at
least once – including a Bulldog pinch hitter. Six of Samford’s batters were
Sullivan strikeout victims at least twice.
WKU added a single tally in the top of the third after Thomas brought Carter home
with a sacrifice fly. The Red and White went up 7-0 in the top of the sixth after
Engelhardt connected for her third home run of the season with a no-doubter to
Carter reached base with a walk in WKU’s final trip to the plate before Sullivan
sent a double down the left line to score Carter all the way from first for the
final 8-1 decision.
Samford’s lone run came in the bottom of the sixth when the Bulldogs’ three-hole
hitter hit a solo home run. The knock was the hosts’ second of two hits in the game.
Sullivan finished with 17 strikeouts against just two walks while facing 26 Samford
batters in the contest. Her 16-strikeout effort was the most ever by a freshman and
today’s outing added to it.
With an overall record of 13-2, the Hilltoppers are off to the best start in program
history. WKU’s .867 win percentage is the best in Conference USA through the first
four weekends of play.
“I really think this team cares about each other,” Tudor shared when asked about
what makes this team so special. “We have all facets of the game covered with this
squad. We have a strong pitching staff, people that produce offense, people that
fill in roles nicely. When you can succeed in all three parts of the game, you give
yourself a really good chance to win. It starts with caring about your teammates
though and putting in effort outside of game day and this team has worked really
WKU 8, EVANSILLE 0
Behind the 13th no hitter in WKU Softball program history off the
arm of freshman Kennedy Sullivan, the Hilltoppers cruised to an 8-0 five-inning
victory over Evansville to open the Samford Invitational. Sullivan became just the
fourth rookie to register a no hitter in program history while posting the
third-ever run-rule no-hit bid.
“I felt like in inning one, we got three runs on the board and she obviously in her
groove, striking out eight people and we played great defense behind her,” head
coach Amy Tudor opened. “This is a pretty special moment for her; I’m proud of her
and proud of the team. Overall, this was a great team effort.”
With her defense making plays behind her, Sullivan allowed just two Evansville base
runners all game, both via walks. In between the two free bases, Sullivan and the
Hilltoppers retired 13-straight UE batters. The rookie finished with eight
strikeouts including three in the bottom of the fifth.
The Hilltoppers struck early and often on offense, taking a 3-0 advantage before
Evansville recorded an at bat.
In the top of the first, Rebekah Engelhardt got things started with a one-out single
before stealing second and scoring on a fielder’s choice that saw Shannon Plese
reach base safely. Kendall Smith followed with a single, scoring Plese to make the
score 2-0 in favor of the Red and White before Tommi Stowers connected for a hit in
her sixth-straight plate appearance for a 3-0 lead.
Two innings later, Stowers connected for a single back up the middle to extend her
hit streak to seven-straight at bats before coming around to score the first of
three Hilltopper runs in the frame on an RBI hit by pitch from Jordan Vorbrink.
Jordan Thomas drew a bases-loaded walk for her eighth RBI of the season.
Plese led off the top of the fourth with her first of two walks on the day before
coming all the way around to score on a double by Smith to the right-center gap.
Stowers’ remarkable streak came to an end in the next at bat as the junior had to
return to the dugout without touching a base first. Picking her up though, Sullivan
singled to centerfield before Paige Carter beat out a bunt single and scored Smith
from third for the 8-0 WKU advantage.
“I thought Tommi saw the ball well,” Tudor continued. “Her confidence is very high
right now. She’s not just getting hits, she’s squaring up the ball. Again, she has a
lot of confidence and has produced a lot of offense for us.”
Smith, Stowers and Carter each registered two hits in the outing. Five different
Hilltoppers accounted for WKU’s five RBI. WKU finished with nine hits in the game,
marking the fourth-straight outing with nine or more.
“Figuring out what our batting approach is going to be from inning one through
inning seven is something that we’ve been focused on,” stated Tudor. “We’ve talked a
lot about two-strike hitting and what we’re swinging at. All week we’ve continued
doing a good job of making adjustments and now we’re going out there and
Sullivan moved to 8-0 on the season with the victory and now owns three
complete-game shutouts during her debut campaign.
WKU Softball is now 11-2 and off to the program’s best start. The Red and White have
now won six-straight decisions dating back to the second weekend of the season.
NEXT GAME: With the Sunday slate of the Samford Invite cancelled, WKU will be back
in action next weekend from Kennesaw, Ga., where the Hilltoppers will compete in the
Bobbie Bailey Memorial Tournament.