TROY, Ala.—Making the first start of his ULM career after 16 appearances out of the bullpen, junior right-hander Corey Brown pitched the game of his life as the seventh-seeded Warhawks upset second-seeded Western Kentucky 4-2 Saturday night at Riddle-Pace Field.
The Warhawks advance to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship Game on Sunday against top-seeded Middle Tennessee at 10 a.m. The game will be televised live on CSS/CST (channel 28 in Monroe), broadcast live on 105.3 FM in the Monroe area and worldwide on the internet at ulmathletics.com.
Brown (4-2) threw 7.1 innings and 122 pitches allowing just two runs and six hits to a Western Kentucky (39-18) team that was hitting .333 as a team entering the game. Drew Graham, who threw 106 pitches in ULM’s victory over South Alabama on Thursday, closed out the game striking out two batters and not allowing a hit over the final 1.2 innings for his second save.
The Warhawks (32-26) have now won four straight games since dropping the opener of the tournament to Western Kentucky back on Wednesday. Since falling behind South Alabama 6-0 in the third inning of the second round game, the Warhawks have outscored its opponents 44-8.
What makes ULM’s run to the title game even more remarkable, is that the Warhawks were 0-8 in the regular season against the three teams on their side of the bracket – WKU (0-3), Troy (0-3), South Alabama (0-2).
The Warhawks are just the second seventh seed to ever advance to the championship game. In 2004, Western Kentucky defeated No. 1 Middle Tennessee 14-4 in Mobile, Ala., to win the title.
ULM got all the runs it would need in the top of the first inning off Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year Matt Hightower.
Boomer Blanchard led off the game with a single to center field, Jon Prevost walked and Ben Soignier was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out. Matt Collins followed with a single through the right side of the infield to plate the first run.
Following an out, Ryan McMillan reached on an infield single to score a run and Nick Wade gave the Warhawks a 3-0 lead with a fielder’s choice groundout. Blanchard finished 2-for-4 with a run scored and Collins was 3-for-4.
Matt Rice led off the WKU half of the second with a double to center field and scored on a Matt Payton double to left.
The Warhawks pushed the lead back out to three runs with a little small ball in the fourth inning. Wade led off the frame with a double to left and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jordy Poche. Following a strikeout and a walk, Wade came home to score on a passed ball.
Hightower, who homered twice against the Warhawks in the first meeting of the tournament, pulled the Hilltoppers within 4-2 with a solo homer to right field in the eighth inning.
Graham walked Payton to lead off the ninth inning, but got Jake Wells to fly out to center field. On an interesting base running decision, Payton tried to tag up on the play but was gunned out by Laird at second. Following another walk, Graham struck out Jared Andreoli to end the game.
Hightower (6-3) took the loss allowing four runs – three earned – on six hits over 3.1 innings of work. Evan Teague and Bart Carter combined for 5.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for WKU.