LITTLE ROCK - The UALR baseball team downed Western Kentucky 11-6 on Sunday afternoon at Gary Hogan Field to earn a 2-1 Sun Belt Conference series victory over the Hilltoppers (17-11, 6-3). The Trojans (13-14, 4-5) jumped out to a 6-0 lead in Sunday's win and answered every WKU rally to earn a series victory over WKU for the second-straight year.
The Trojans scored four runs in the first and added two in the second to take control early on. WKU slowly worked its way back into the game and drew within two runs, 8-6, in the top of the seventh as Matt Rice belted his second two-run homer of the game. The Trojans manufactured two runs in the bottom half to go back on top by four, 10-6, and freshman Andrew Hohn closed out the game by holding WKU to one hit with two strikeouts over 1.2 scoreless innings.
"It was a really big series win for us and this team showed a lot of character coming off Friday's loss. We didn't have our best stuff on the mound, but our guys were able to compete," said UALR head coach Scott Norwood. "Our bats got hot the last two games and allowed us to score quite a few runs against a very good ballclub. Every time they scored today we had an answer. When they scored to pull within two in the seventh, we answered immediately and got the momentum back on our side."
Senior Jason Houston went 3-for-3 with four runs scored and two RBI to lead the way for UALR. Houston belted his first home run of the year in the bottom of the sixth, a solo shot to left, and was one of three Trojans to tally three hits in the win. Senior Casey McCollum went 3-for-5 at the plate and junior Sean Bignall added a 3-for-4 effort for the Trojans. Houston, senior Jake Rowell and junior Nick Rountree each drove in two runs in the win, with Rountree delivering a two-run homer to left in the second inning - his team-leading fourth of the year.
WKU starter Brian Edelen (3-1) lasted just 3.0 innings and suffered his first loss of the year after allowing six hits and six runs (five earned) to the Trojans. Rice went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and four RBI in the loss, belting two-run homers in the sixth and seventh innings.
Edelen struck out the first batter he faced on Sunday, but UALR quickly loaded the bases on a single by sophomore Myles Parma and walks by Houston and Rountree. With the bases loaded and one out, Rowell hit a grounder to first which WKU's Ryan Huck was unable to come up with, allowing all three Trojans to score. Rowell took second on the play, and came around to score on the next at-bat as junior Justin Barnes singled up the middle.
Rountree hit a two-out, two-run homer to left in the bottom of the second to give the Trojans a 6-0 lead. UALR starter Calvin Drinnen opened with three shutout innings on Sunday before WKU managed to push across a run in the fourth. Drinnen improved to 3-2 on the year by limiting the Hilltoppers to five hits and five runs (four earned) over 6.2 frames.
Trailing 7-1 after five innings, WKU put together a three-run rally in the sixth to make it a 7-4 contest. Rice followed up a leadoff single by Ivan Hartle with his first two-run homer of the game, and the Hilltoppers tacked on another run in the inning as Kes Carter scored from third on a wild pitch.
Houston's solo homer in the bottom half put UALR on top 8-4, but Rice struck again in the seventh, hitting a two-run homer off reliever Bubba Cooper to bring the Hilltoppers within two, 8-6. The Trojans answered once again, scoring three runs in the bottom half off three hits and a Hilltopper error to dash any hopes of a WKU comeback. McCollum reached on a bunt single and moved up to second on a throwing error. He took third on a single by Bignall, and came around to score on a wild pitch from reliever Rye Davis. Junior Greg Garcia capped off UALR's scoring by plating Bignall with a two-out, RBI base knock to center. The Trojans then tacked on an insurance run in the eighth as Houston opened the frame with a leadoff double and scored from third two batters later on a sacrifice fly to right by Rowell.
UALR returns to action Tuesday night when it hosts Oral Roberts at 6 p.m.