BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Justin Steelmon’s big day at the plate propelled the Trojans to a 7-5 win against the Hilltoppers at Nick Denes Field. Jesse Harbin picked up the win by stranding a runner on second with no outs in the eighth to preserve the tie before UALR won it in the ninth.
Steelmon, who went 2-for-2 with two walks in the game, led off UALR’s half of the ninth with a double to the right-centerfield gap. The ball kicked away from WKU’s outfielders and allowed the junior to advance to third. Bryson Thionnet followed with a line-drive single to left to score Steelmon and break the tie.
After Drew Merten singled to put runners on second and third, WKU (22-21, 10-10 SBC) closer Ian Tompkins uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Thionnet to score all the way from second to give UALR (18-23, 6-14 SBC) a 7-5 lead. Petr Sila walked and Sam Vogel was hit by a pitch to load the bases with only one out. However, Brandon Allen was able to come in and strand the runners.
The Trojans wasted no time putting Friday’s offensive struggles behind them as Austin Pfeiffer led off the game with a double. Tanner Rockwell showed bunt on the first pitch he saw but pulled back and let the pitch go by. The decision worked out for Rockwell as he launched the next pitch over the left field fence to give the team a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second inning the Hilltoppers got on the board as Ryan Church hammered a solo home run to make it 2-1.
Pfeiffer, who is riding a nine-game hitting streak, continued his hot-hitting with a leadoff single in the third before moving into scoring position when Rockwell drew a walk. Justin Steelmon, then, laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners up. The strategy work for UALR as Bryson Thionnet brought Pfeiffer around to score with a sacrifice fly to right field and give the Trojans a 3-1 lead.
Church came up with two outs in the third and once against homered to left field to cut WKU’s deficit to one at 3-2.
Steelmon led off the fifth with a single to right and advanced to second when the Hilltoppers’ right fielder bobbled the ball. Steelmon was moved up to third on Thionnet’s groundout to second and then scored when Joseph Paulino did the same to put UALR up 4-2.
Thoele ran into trouble in the fifth hitting the first batter of the inning and then walking the second. Scott Wilcox laid down a sacrifice bunt before UALR elected to put Church on to load the bases and bring in Travis McDonald out of the bullpen.
WKU’s Anderson Miller hit the first pitch he saw just out of the reach of Drew McCurry at second to bring in two runs and tie the game. The Trojans got out of the inning when Thionnet caught a shallow fly ball and threw Church out trying to score.
Thoele finished his start with 4.1 innings allowing four runs, all earned, on just three hits while earning a no decision.
In sixth the Hilltoppers moved ahead with back-to-back singles. Ryan Messex picked up the second hit and was caught in a rundown trying to stretch the hit into a double. The Trojans retired Messex, but the rundown allowed Ben Simmons to race home on the play and give WKU a 5-4 lead.
With two outs in the seventh Steelmon drew his second walk of the game. Thionnet extended the inning when he reached on an error allowing Steelmon to race around to third. Paulino stepped to the plate and on the first pitch he saw singled into left field to even the score at 6-6.
Petr Sila drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on Sam Vogel’s sacrifice bunt to give UALR a scoring chance in the eighth. Sila moved to third on McCurry’s flyout to right field before Pfeiffer drew a walk to put runners on the corners for Rockwell. But Brennan Pearson was able to retire the junior and keep the game tied.
Philip Diedrick doubled to open the bottom of the eighth against McDonald before UALR brought in Harbin out of the bullpen. The sophomore right-hander did what he has done all year for the Trojans and set down the next three batters in succession to strand the runner and send the game to the ninth all tied up.
Harbin, Dyllon Brownmiller and Rockwell each got an out for the Trojans in the bottom of the ninth to close the door on WKU. Rockwell struck out the final batter to pick up the save after Brownmiller retired the Hilltoppers' main threat in Church.
The Trojans and Hilltoppers will meet for the third and final time of the weekend on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. UALR will be looking to win its first road series of the season.