BASEBALL: Western routs South Alabama, reclaims Sun Belt lead

Friday night’s game had all the makings of a pitchers’ duel between the Sun Belt Conference’s top two aces.

Instead, Western lit up South Alabama starter D.D. Hanks and two relievers for 13 runs in the first three innings on its way to a 13-3 victory. Senior pitcher Matt Ridings said the Toppers were able to take back the lead in the Sun Belt due to a more relaxed feeling on the field.

“We knew they had a really good team,” Ridings said. “They proved themselves, but we have too, so we just came out here relaxed.”

Hanks entered the game tied for the national lead in wins with seven and had pitched into the ninth inning in his last five starts. But the Toppers went at him early with seven hits and seven runs in only 1.1 innings before Hanks was taken out of the game.

Freshman designated hitter Ryan Huck paced Western’s offense with a two-run double in the first inning and a three-run homerun in the second inning.

“He’s been swinging the bat good for us, and it was good to see him have a good night.

Senior second baseman Matt Payton had two triples, three runs and three RBI, while junior catcher Matt Rice also had three runs and three RBI capped off by a two-run homerun in the third inning.

“We came out and swung the bats well early, which was good to see because the last 10 days or so we have not been geting the big hits,” Head Coach Chris Finwood said.

Meanwhile, senior pitcher Matt Ridings was doing everything Hanks wasn’t on the mound. Ridings struck out a season-high 11 batters and pitched his first complete game of the year for his seventh win of the year. Finwood said Ridings threw an “outstanding game.”

“(South Alabama) has been one of the most hot-hitting teams in the nation, and (Ridings) pitched a great game,” Finwood said. “He had all three pitches working and kept their hitters off balance.”

Ridings said it was easy for him to pitch Friday with the run support he received.

“It makes you so much more relaxed,” Ridings said. “We got 13 runs in the first three innings, and I think anyone in this park can pitch with a three-run lead.”

Ridings is now two wins away from tying the Sun Belt career record for wins with 34.

The Toppers overtook South Alabama for first place in the Sun Belt with the win. Senior pitcher Shane Cameron takes the mound for the Toppers at 3 p.m. Saturday at Denes Field for game two of the series.

Mike Stunson

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