Story By Will Carter / Sports Editor
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (10-17, 2-7 C-USA) struck first with one run in the second inning in Sunday’s rubber match, but left-hander Peyton Wigginton pitched seven scoreless innings in response to boost the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (13-14, 5-4) to a 5-1 victory and a series win.
Wigginton tossed his fourth career complete game in the start allowing nine hits with six strikeouts, and moving himself up to the sixth spot on the Blue Raiders’ all-time strikeout list.
He has 231 total career strikeouts.
“I’m not a huge strikeout pitcher, so I have to rely on the defense a lot,” Wigginton said. “When they make huge plays for me and get active, it’s huge for us as a team. Being able to trust when I execute my pitch that my defenders are going to make a play is a great feeling.”
Aside from only scoring in two of the nine innings, the Blue Raiders were executing in all aspects of the game. Wigginton went the distance, the defense had only one error, and they scored five runs on eight hits in the victory. In the three game series, the defense tallied only a single error.
“That was fun: it is anytime you win the series against your rival in front of a great crowd,” Blue Raider head coach Jim Toman said. “It was good to see Fausto (Lopez), (Jackson) Galloway, and (Brett) Coker step up today. We needed guys to step up, and it was them. It was a big day for Wigginton. That’s what we needed out of an older pitcher.”
One trip through the lineup is all it took for the Blue Raiders to get comfortable in the batter’s box.
Fausto Lopez led off the third inning in his second at-bat with a solo homer that slammed into the right field foul pole to tie the game at one run each. The blast was his sixth of the season and a team best. A few at-bats later, Jackson Galloway smashed a two-out triple off the left-centerfield wall to score two more runs. Galloway was back in the dugout soon after thanks to a single from Brett Coker that extended the Blue Raider lead to three runs.
Galloway’s triple was his second of the season, and if it wasn’t for the wind blowing towards home plate, it probably would have sailed over the wall. Regardless, Galloway was grateful for the triple and to “pass the bat” – a phrase the Blue Raiders preach in the dugout.
“We had runners on, so I wanted to find a pitch I could put a good swing on,” Galloway said. “My first at-bat I swung at a lot of down pitches. I told myself to see it up after that. The first pitch ended up being up in the zone, so I swung on it. When we pass the bat, you can see how everyone feeds off of it. We all just pick up one another. If you score four or five in an inning, it buries a team.”
For Wigginton, it was his final appearance on the mound against Middle Tennessee’s bitter rival while it was Galloway’s first taste of the “100 Miles of Hate” matchup. Wigginton, in his fifth year, laughed when Galloway mentioned it postgame.
“This is my first time facing them, and I see why everyone takes it seriously,” Galloway said. “Yesterday some things didn’t go our way, but as we say, champions win on Sunday.”
The series win was the Blue Raiders second in a row and their sixth win out of the last eight. It also moved them into a tie for third place in the current C-USA standings, and a tiebreaker over the Hilltoppers if needed later in the year.
“We’ve won two series in a row, and two out of three,” Toman said. “At the end of the year, you get a lot of ties (in the standings). They go with tiebreakers in the standings, so we have a tiebreaker against them and UAB now.”
Next on the schedule is a home game against the Memphis Tigers on Wednesday before the Blues Raiders travel to West Virginia to take on the Marshall Herd. Wednesday’s game is set for a 4 p.m. start.