Jonesboro (ASU) – The Arkansas State Red Wolves (16-10, 6-4) jumped out to a 3-0 first inning lead, but Western Kentucky answered with a pair of runs in the third and two more in the fourth that proved to be enough to give the Hilltoppers (22-5, 7-0) a 4-3 victory Friday night at Tomlinson Stadium and Kell Field.
With the win, Western Kentucky extended its win streak to nine games and jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the three-game Sun Belt Conference weekend series between the two teams. Arkansas State saw a four-game win streak snapped with the loss to the 18th-ranked Hilltoppers.
Arkansas State strung together three consecutive RBI doubles in the opening inning to grab the 3-0 lead, getting run-scoring hits from third baseman Jordan Castaldo, right fielder Todd Baumgartner and first baseman Murray Watts. From there, Western Kentucky starter Matt Ridings (6-0) was solid over the next six innings, striking out nine batters while giving up nine hits and no walks to get the win. Closer Rye Davis worked the final two innings to earn his sixth save of the year, striking out two without allowing a baserunner.
"Their pitchers were tremendous after that first inning," said ASU head coach Tommy Raffo. "They didn't give us any freebies – no walks and no hit by pitches. Our hats are off to them. They threw the ball in the strike zone and spun the ball in the strike zone when they wanted to."
"It was difficult tonight, but at the same time we have to compete and get after it tomorrow," added Raffo. "Western Kentucky is a good ballclub, but we have to learn from this and get better for Saturday."
Western Kentucky scored twice in the third on a two-run single from catcher Matt Rice, then added two more in the fourth. Left fielder Kory Petri was hit by a pitch before scoring on a wild pitch for the Hilltoppers' first run in the fourth, and second baseman Logan Robbins drove in the inning's second run with a sacrifice fly.
Arkansas State junior Andy Ferguson (2-2) gave up the four runs to take the loss for the Red Wolves. Ferguson worked five innings, allowing seven hits while striking out seven and walking none. Reliever Andres Caceres went the final four innings on the mound for ASU, giving up no runs on two hits, with four strikeouts and three walks.
Watts went 3-for-4 with an RBI to lead ASU at the plate, while Rice was 3-for-5 with two RBIs to pace the Hilltoppers.
The two teams will resume the series Saturday at 4:00 p.m.