Senior outfielder Connor Barleben slugged three of Ashland's five home runs in a 24-10 rout of West Liberty before the Eagles held on for a 7-6 win in a literal nightcap to sweep a doubleheader from the Hilltoppers on Thursday (April 5) at Donges Field.
Barleben's three-homer game was the first since teammate Greg Ludwig did it against Hillsdale on March 25, 2017 in a 14-3 win. The 24 runs scored in Game 1 were the most for Ashland since a 26-2 win over Cedarville on March 22, 2016.
Ludwig hit a three-run homer to straightaway center field to open the scoring in the first inning as the Eagles (14-9) put up six runs in the opening frame.
Barleben pounded a two-run blast to center field in the second inning as part of a seven-run output that gave AU a 13-4 lead. Sophomore Michael Rogers also had a two-run single in the inning.
The Hilltoppers (9-12) got two back in the third, but Barleben's second homer – a two-run blast – made it 15-6 through three innings.
After sophomore Carson Mittermaier ripped an RBI double in the fourth, Barleben followed with a three-run shot to straightaway center field to give AU a 20-7 lead. Rogers hit a two-run home run in the sixth for AU's fifth homer of the game.
Barleben now has a team-high eight home runs and finished the game with seven RBI and four runs scored. Mittermaier was 3-for-4 with two RBI and three runs and Rogers was 3-for-5 with a a triple, a homer and five RBI.
Junior right-hander Sam Rice picked up the win in relief of starter Perry Bewley. Senior left-hander Zack Whitehead finished the game with two scoreless innings. Luke Cooper was hung with the loss for the Hilltoppers, giving up six runs in 2/3 of an inning.
After WLU scored twice in the first inning of Game 2, the Eagles responded with five runs in the bottom half. Freshman Micah Allen had a two-run double before an error extended the inning and junior Alex Niecikowski blasted an opposite-field two-run shot.
The combination of Allen and freshman lefty Nicky Zorne kept the Hilltoppers off the board in the fifth.
Barleben led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk and stole second base with two outs. That proved vital as Niecikowski hit the next pitch into the hole to give AU a 7-6 lead.
Freshman Josh Stover whipped through three batters in the sixth before sophomore Chance Hitchcock worked around a walk and a bunt single by striking out WLU leadoff man Vincent Haddox to end the game.
Zorne (1-0) earned the win for Ashland while Hitchcock picked up his first save. Sophomore southpaw Josh Smith tossed 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief as he followed starter Cory Teachout to the mound. Nolan Marcus (0-1) suffered the loss for the Hilltoppers.
Niecikowski was 3-for-3 in the game with three RBI as WLU out-hit the Eagles, 8-6.
The Eagles will now welcome Saginaw Valley State to Donges Field on Friday (April 6) to start a four-game GLIAC series. First pitch is set for 4 p.m.