BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - UALR junior Chance Cleveland struck out 11 batters and held Western Kentucky (10-16, 2-5) to one run and four hits over 7.0 innings to lead the Trojans to a 3-1 victory at Nick Denes Field on Friday night. Senior Sean Bignall factored in all three runs for the Trojans (16-10, 3-4), going 3-for-5 at the plate with two runs scored and one RBI.
The Sun Belt's leader in strikeouts, Cleveland (6-1) reached double figures in strikeouts for the third time this season on Friday, finishing with 11 strikeouts against just three walks. He retired the first nine batters he faced in-order before WKU scratched across its only run of the game in the fourth inning, and twice worked his way out of bases loaded jams.
Leading 3-1 after seven innings, the Trojans turned things over to freshman Cameron Allen in the eighth inning and the Wichita Falls, Texas-native closed out the game with two scoreless frames to pick up the first save of his career.
WKU's pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts in the loss, as starter Justin Hageman struck out eight over 6.0 innings and Taylor Haydel fanned six over the final three frames. Hageman (1-3) took the loss despite holding the Trojans to six hits and two runs, while Haydel allowed just one unearned run over the final three innings.
UALR took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second as Bignall opened the frame with a double to the warning track in left. Bignall came around to score on the next at-bat, as junior Blake Johnson delivered a run-scoring single to left.
Cleveland retired the Hilltoppers in-order over the first three innings, as WKU went hitless until Ivan Hartle led off the fourth inning with a single past shortstop Bryson Thionnet. Cleveland struck out the next two Hilltoppers he faced, but Casey Dykes evened things up at 1-all when he plated Hartle from first with a RBI double to the left field corner. WKU loaded the bases with two outs on the board off an infield single by Scott Wilcox and a walk by Blake Crabtree, but Cleveland escaped the jam by inducing an inning-ending ground out from Adam Lavelle.
The Trojans reclaimed the lead in the top of the sixth, after Bignall reached on a one-out single up the middle and quickly worked his way over to third off a balk and a wild pitch. UALR loaded the bases with two outs on the board as Hageman walked a pair of Trojans around a pop-up to short, before hitting junior John Clark with a pitch to force across the go-ahead run. UALR had a chance to add to its lead, but Hageman struck out senior Cameron Bentley to leave the bags full.
Trailing 2-1, WKU managed to load the bases in the bottom of the sixth after a fielding error with two outs on the board extended the inning. With runners on second and third, Lavelle drew a two-out walk to load the bases, but Cleveland got Devin Kelly swinging (his 11th strikeout) to leave the bags full for the second time.
The Hilltoppers turned things over to Haydel at the start of the 7th, but the WKU defense greeted him with a fielding error on a ground ball from the first batter he faced. Haydel then hit junior Chris Burk to put two runners on, and Bignall extended UALR's lead to 3-1 with a RBI single to right. The Trojans put runners on the corners with one out on the board, but WKU turned an inning-ending double play as Haydel struck out Johnson and Kelly threw out Bignall at second on a stolen base attempt.
UALR and WKU return to action tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m.