BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Belmont baseball fought down to the final pitches against Western Kentucky Tuesday afternoon at Nick Denes Field, but were edged by the Hilltoppers, 3-2, on a walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth.
Senior utility Nick Egli (Brentwood, Tenn.) continued to shine at the plate, once again sparking Belmont's offense with a pair of hits in his first two plate appearances. After delivering a single in the first frame, he launched a two-bagger that bounced off the left field wall to eventually give the Bruins the advantage. A Hilltopper miscue allowed junior infielder Rafael Bournigal (Mulberry, Fla.) to reach first and put runners on the corners for junior Ben Kocher (Zionsville, Ind.) to drive in the first run of the day on a base knock drilled up the middle, putting BU up, 1-0.
Western Kentucky responded with a run of its own in the home half of the fourth after collecting consecutive doubles from Thomas Peter and Hunter Wood, but the Bruins would reclaim the lead during their next turn at the plate.
After a miscommunication from the umpires on his first at bat that resulted in an out, senior outfielder Tyler Walsh (Evansville, Ind.) ensured that he'd reach base the next time he stepped up to the plate, blasting a double to the centerfield warning track. He then displayed his speed to steal third and pressure the WKU defense. For the fourth time this season Walsh stealing later resulted in a run to put Belmont up, 2-1, on an RBI from junior shortstop Kyle Conger (Brentwood, Tenn.). The Evansville, Indiana native boasts a perfect 4-for-4 record when attempting to rob a base.
The back and forth battle continued between the two squads as Western Kentucky once again had an answer for BU's run, knotting the game up 2-2 while tacking on two more hits in the stanza. For the second time in five frames senior catcher Clay Payne (Powell, Tenn.) denied a Hilltopper of stealing second. In almost identical fashion, the veteran collected the pitch and sent a bullet to second base – both times triggering the out. It's the fifth time that Payne has caught a runner stealing this season.
The Bruins reached deep into its bullpen throughout the outing, throwing six pitchers on the day. Redshirt-junior Ben Lovell (St. Louis, Mo.) earned his second career start on the hill, throwing two flawless innings and only relinquishing one hit. From then on Belmont called on lefties Zach Hodgkiss (Eads, Tenn.) and Tyler Alderfer (Perkasie, Pa.) before junior Austin Reynolds (Smyrna, Tenn.) took the rubber for the bottom of the six. After dealing a pair of walks to his first two batters, the JUCO transfer pitched himself out of the jam, sitting down the next three Hilltoppers. Sophomore right-hander Kyle Klotz (Fairview, Tenn.) joined Lovell and Hodgkiss as the only to toss more than one frame, tossing the seventh and eighth.
Western Kentucky eventually came out on top in an eventful home half of the ninth. The Hilltoppers leadoff the inning with a walk and stolen base before a sacrifice bunt put a Topper on third base for pinch hitter Grayson Ivey. With one down and the count 1-2, Ivey delivered the game-winning hit with a double to centerfield to put WKU up, 3-2, and end the game.
Belmont will kick off its conference slate at Eastern Kentucky, March 10-12. The first game is scheduled to be played in the Colonels brand new facility, the Earle Combs Stadium, on Friday, March 10 at 3 p.m. CT.