WKU tops ULM

Published 1:26 am Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chad Cregar has not stopped hitting home runs since he arrived at Riddle-Pace Field.

The Western Kentucky senior won the 2009 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championship Family Night Home Run Derby Tuesday night with 21 long balls and hit a walk-off home run to end the No. 2 Hilltoppers’ opening round game, 14-4, against No. 7 Louisiana-Monroe Wednesday.

“It was a 3-2 count and he threw me a slider that hung a little bit and I was way out in front, but if you get it up in this park you have a chance,” Cregar said.

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The home run was the fifth of the game. WKU’s Matt Laird, Matt Hightower and Wade Gaynor and ULM’s Casey Auttonberry also hit bombs.

Cregar walked in two of his first three at-bats, but that trend stopped when ULM realized pitching around Cregar did not work.

“Matt Rice did what he has done all year,” Cregar said. “They get on and he gets them in and gets the RBIs. He is a stud. They have been pitching around me all year, but if Matt stays hot it won’t matter.”

The Warhawks (28-26) hung with Western Kentucky (38-16) for six innings, but the Hilltoppers blew the game open in the seventh and ended it by mercy rule in the eighth, 14-4.

“Any time you have lost four in a row it is good to get a win,” WKU head coach Chris Finwood said. “I thought we came out and played more like we have played the entire season today. We were aggressive out there.”

The Hilltoppers struck first with two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Jared Andreoli singled to open the inning, Matt Hightower reached on a fielder’s choice and three batters later Matt Rice punched a single through the infield to bring Andreoli and Hightower home for the 2-0 lead.

WKU threatened again in the second, but failed to score. The Warhawks put together a two-out rally in the fourth, but Hightower struck out leadoff hitter Boomer Blanchard to end the threat and WKU took the 2-0 lead into its half of the fourth.

Western added to the lead in the fourth with three runs scored. Matt Payton was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and after Jake Wells and Jeremy Coleman reached base Andreoli hit a sacrifice fly to bring Payton home and Hightower crushed a ball over the right field wall for a two-run home run and a 5-0 WKU lead.

Matt Laird cut the Hilltopper lead to 5-3 with one swing of the bat in the top of the fifth. He launched a home run over the scoreboard in right field to score Jon Prevost and Matt Collins after Prevost opened the inning with a double and Collins walked.

WKU added one run in the sixth, six in the seventh and Cregar ended the game in the eighth with a walk-off home run for the 14-4 WKU mercy rule victory.

“We were one hit away from breaking it open for three or four innings, but we couldn’t get it and we were hanging in there and they make it 5-3 and we were able to get some big hits after that. When we put the six-spot up I think that broke it open.”

Gaynor and Matt Rice each had three hits for WKU. Andreoli and Hightower each posted three RBIs and Rice and Cregar added two RBIs apiece.

Bart Carter picked up the win for WKU, pitching 2.2 innings in relief of Hightower. He allowed one run on one hit, struck out five and walked one.

Hightower allowed three runs on seven hits, struck out four and walked three.

Western will face No. 3 Troy at 7:30 p.m. tonight and ULM squares off with No. 6 South Alabama today at 12:30 p.m.