The Hilltopper baseball team is heading to the second round of the Conference USA Tournament for the first time in program history after defeating Old Dominion 7-4 on Wednesday at MGM Park in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Western Kentucky University was leading by four runs heading into the top of the seventh inning when sophomore pitcher Dalton Shoemake took the mound for the Toppers. The former Glasgow High School standout gave up two hits and a run, but went on to throw a career-high six strikeouts with no walks while earning the save.
"I wanted to go out there and do my best, try to get as many outs as I can and throw strikes," Shoemake said in a press release from WKU Athletics. "I think they were mostly guessing off-speed — I threw a lot of off-speed the first time I faced them — so we tried to get that fastball in there.
"Honestly, I wasn’t focused on how the other games ended, I was just focused on this game."
The contest began at 10:31 p.m., and ended at 1:46 a.m.
WKU coach John Pawlowski stated in the press release that "when you play the last game of the day, you never know how they're going to handle what we're up against."
"We didn't know how late we were going to play, but that's typical tournament baseball and we responded very well," he said. "We played hard, pitched it well and played good defense – and whenever you do that, you have a chance to win."
This was the Hilltoppers' first time playing in the C-USA Tournament, "and we wanted to make an impression," Pawlowski said. "Who knows? Any team in this tournament can win it, and if you get off to a good start in Game 1, you're assured of two more games.
"I felt like we had some really quality at-bats over the course of the game – we kept putting pressure on them."
After giving up a run in the top of the first, WKU was scoreless through the first three innings.
But then the Toppers crossed the plate six times in the bottom of the fourth to take a 6-1 lead.
"We needed to get something going offensively after we had been shut down in the first few innings," WKU junior Tray Zuberer III said in the press release. "We got the bats hot and then the pitching came in and closed the deal for us. They've struggled at times this year and they've bounced back.
"They struggled last week and they bounced back again. These pitchers are a resilient bunch and I'm so proud of them and I'm proud of this team – and we still have more work to do."
WKU is set to take on No. 1 seed Florida Atlantic in the second round of the tournament.