Skelton’s late heroics lift LA Tech in 4-2 win over WKU
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Senior shortstop Dalton Skelton came through with a solo home run in the top of the 11th inning, breaking a 2-2 gridlock, and lifting Louisiana Tech to an eventual 4-2, 11-inning win over WKU on Sunday afternoon from Nick Denes Field. The win clinched the weekend series for the Bulldogs – Tech’s sixth Conference-USA series win this season.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” head coach Lane Burroughs noted. “It’s been a long two weeks. We’ve had a lot of travel and some issues with things going against us, but our guys held tight and stayed true to form. They played hard, and I couldn’t be more proud of the way they’ve played the past two weeks. One thing we’ve talked about from the start of fall action, is that Sundays are all about toughness. It’s when championships are won. Teams that win on Sunday are usually successful, and today was one of those grind-it-out wins for us today.”
With the win, Tech improves to 31-15 overall and 15-6 in Conference USA action, and now sits in sole possession of second place in the league standings – just behind league-leader Southern Miss at 16-4.
With Sunday’s game knotted at two in the top of the 11th inning, Tech shortstop Dalton Skelton took a one out fastball from WKU’s (20-23, 10-11 C-USA) hard-throwing closer Ben Morrison, and lined his ninth home run of the season over the wall in right centerfield, giving Tech a 3-2 lead.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Skelton,” Burroughs added. “After not playing yesterday, and playing today the way he did – that’s what seniors are supposed to do – step up and get it done when it matters. He’s having a great year for us, and I’m proud of him to come back the way he did and give us that game-winner there late.”
The Bulldogs would tack on another run in the frame, after Mason Mallard would come in to score on an error by WKU’s Chase Larsen, who made an errant throw to first on a groundball from Mason Robinson.
With a 4-2 lead, Tech sent out closer Kent Hasler for his third inning of work. The senior right-hander gave up a walk to WKU second baseman Steven Kraft, and then with two outs, the Hilltoppers’ cleanup man in Ray Zuberer lofted a high drive deep into right field. Tech right fielder Mason Robinson kept his composure, and tracked the ball all the way to the wall, making an incredible leaping catch, and securing the gritty triumph.
Hasler entered in a tie game in the ninth, and picked up his first win of the season. The Chandler, Arizona, native worked three scoreless innings of relief and struck out four, while not allowing a hit.
Hasler entered with a runner on first and nobody out in the bottom of the ninth in a 2-2 tie. He immediately got out number one on a swinging strikeout of Rhinesmith, but proceeded to load the bases after a pair of walks. With the winning run 90 feet away, WKU’s Colin Currie grounded to third. Tech third baseman Tanner Huddleston proceeded to step on third, forcing out Zuberer, and then Kraft was caught in a rundown between third and home. Kraft eluded the tag, and slid back into third, but Tech caught Tyler Robertson napping, as he was standing on first along with Currie. Skelton alertly thre to Young covering the bag at second for the force out and one of the more unique, 5-2-5-1-6-4 double plays – sending the game to extra innings.
Through the first four innings, neither team was able to scratch on multiple opportunities for each, but the Hilltoppers capitalized on an RBI single from Kraft in the bottom of the fifth, to take a 1-0 lead.
However, in the top of the sixth, the Bulldogs responded with a pair as Mason Mallard scored on an error by WKU pitcher Jacob Green, who threw away a sac bunt attempt from Mason Robinson. Then, with the game even at one, Tech second baseman Taylor Young looped a one-out RBI-single into center, scoring Parker Bates, who had walked.
Facing a 2-1 deficit, WKU tied the game in the bottom of the seventh via another RBI single from Kraft. The Hilltopper second baseman finished the day 4-for-4 at the plate, while drawing a pair of walks, and drove in WKU’s only two runs of the game.
Tech starter Logan Bailey made it through 4.2 innings, scattering seven hits and allowing just one run. Sophomore reliever Kyle Griffen entered for Bailey and went 3.1 innings allowing just one run on four hits, while keeping the Tech offense within striking distance.
The first three hitters in the Tech lineup in Hunter Wells, Dalton Skelton and Mason Mallard all notched multiple hit-efforts – combining to go 8-for-14 in the series finale.
Mallard tied his career high with three stolen bases, and remains perfect on the season – successfully converting on all 22 of his stolen-base attempts. The left fielder also scored two runs and walked twice, seemingly causing havoc for WKU pitchers all afternoon long.
For the second-straight game, WKU utilized seven pitchers. Starter Evan Acosta went 5.0 innings allowing two earned runs, while walking four and striking out five.
The Bulldogs will return to action next weekend at home, hosting Middle Tennessee in a three-game C-USA series (April 4-6). Friday’s game is slated for a 6 p.m. CT first pitch from J.C. Love Field at Pat Patterson Park.
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