Hilltoppers clinch series over Cincinnati, WKU wins on back-to-back walk-off hits

WKU outfielder Ray Zuberer III (7) throws the ball back infield after catching a hit at the baseball game at Nick Denes Field on Feb. 27, 2021. WKU lost 11-3 in the final game of the series.

Wyatt Sparkman

WKU (3-4) hosted Cincinnati (1-5) on Saturday afternoon to wrap up the weekend series due to projected inclement weather Saturday evening in Bowling Green. 

“I think it is a very good Cincinnati team,” head coach John Pawlowski said. “It gives you credibility and confidence knowing that you can compete and perform at a high level, and I think it’ll help our club.”  

Senior Ray Zuberer III and graduate Davis Sims led the Hilltoppers at the plate today in the final games against the Bearcats. 

Zuberer hit his first home run of the season in game one today in the bottom of the seventh inning to take a 4-3 lead. Then Sims scored freshman Ty Crittenberger in from second base in the bottom of the ninth inning to clinch the series 5-4 over Cincinnati. 

“When you go into extra innings and you have two games like we had where one pitch, one play, one swing can mean the difference in winning and losing,” Pawlowski said. 

Game 1 

Junior pitcher Sean Bergeron got the start for WKU. He tossed for seven innings, allowing three runs with five strikeouts. 

“He kept attacking the zone. I don’t think he had any walks, five strikeouts, just felt great to see that for him to go out there and continue to attack the zone,” Pawlowski said. 

Lefty graduate pitcher Dean McCarthy got the start for Cincinnati. He tossed for 6.2 innings, allowing four runs with five strikeouts. 

Both the Bearcats and Hilltoppers started the game going three up and three down at the end of the first inning. 

In the bottom of the second inning, sophomore Jackson Swiney reached first base on a fielder’s choice, and sophomore Jackson Gray was walked putting both Hilltoppers on first and second. Both were left stranded after a pop up to end the second inning. 

The Bearcats started the fourth inning on fire with three straight hits. Senior Wyatt Sapp’s RBI double scored graduate Eric Santiago to give the Bearcats a 1-0 lead. Bergeron got out of the top of the fourth inning, but not before the Bearcats tacked on two more runs to extend their lead 3-0. 

Ray Zuberer III started the bottom of the fourth off with a walk, then he advanced to third after a single putting Hilltopper runners on the corners. Gray then popped up to end the fourth inning leaving them stranded. 

Freshman Eric Riffe doubled to start the bottom of the fifth inning, but he and another Hilltopper were left stranded on first and second base after Zuberer popped up to end the fifth inning. 

WKU got the bats going in the bottom of the seventh inning. Senior Richard Constantine hit a RBI single scoring Riffe cutting the deficit to 3-1 Bearcats.  Zuberer hit his first homerun of the season scoring Constantine and senior Jack Wilson to take a 4-3 lead. 

“It was really cool. It was a good feeling to have to put us up by one and I’m just glad I got a good swing off with two strikes and a fastball,” Zuberer said. “I got a hold of it, so it was good.” 

Bearcat junior Drake Batcho came in for McCarthy with one out remaining following the three-run shot by Zuberer. Batcho struckout Swiney to end the seventh inning. 

Sophomore pitcher Hunter Crosby came in for Bergeron to start the eighth inning. Redshirt sophomore pitcher Mason Vinyard then came in for Crosby following a double by Santigao to start the eighth inning. Vinyard got out of the top of the eighth, but not before the Bearcats scored Santiago on a sacrifice fly tying the game at 4 a piece. 

Both teams had nothing to show for in the eighth inning as both left a runner in scoring position to end the inning. In the top of the ninth, Vinyard allowed one hit, while striking out three Bearcat batters. 

Freshman Max Bergmann came in to pitch after Batcho walked Wilson and advanced Wilson’s pinch runner Ty Crittenberger to second base on a wild pitch to start the bottom of the ninth. Crittenberger then advanced to third base on a sacrifice fly. 

Davis Sims gave the Hilltoppers their second straight walk-off win with a sacrifice fly scoring Crittenberger from third base. Hilltoppers win a dramatic game 5-4. Vinyard picked up his first win of the season coming in relief of Bergeron.

“It felt great. I’m glad that I can come through in those opportunities,” Sims said. “We were in that game because Ray had a big homerun for us that put us back up.” 

Game 2

For the second game of the doubleheader, junior pitcher Ryan O’Connell got the start for the Hilltoppers and senior Garrett Schoenle got the start for the Bearcats. 

The Bearcats got off to a hot start in the top of the second inning by scoring three runs. Pawlowski then made a pitcher change bringing redshirt junior Collin Lollar for O’Connell. Lollar got out of the top of the second inning, but not before surrendering another run extending the Bearcat lead 4-0. 

In the bottom of the third inning, WKU cut into the Bearcats’ lead as Riffe notched his first homerun of his career and Sims hit a RBI single before Swiney struckout to end the third inning. The Bearcats lead 4-2. 

The Hilltoppers started the bottom of the fourth with two straight singles, but a double play and a Riffe strikeout later left Gray stranded in scoring position to end the fourth inning. 

In the top of the fifth inning, the Bearcats’ graduate Joey Bellini hit a RBI single to extend their lead. In the bottom of the fifth, the Hilltoppers were able to cut into the lead with a RBI double from Zuberer. The Bearcats led 5-3 after the fifth frame.

The Hilltoppers would make three pitcher changes in the top of the sixth inning. Freshman pitcher Lane Diuguid would come in for Lollar to start the sixth, freshman Dalton Mesaris came in for Diuguid, and junior Riley Boyd came in for Mesaris. 

Boyd finished the top of the sixth, but the Bearcats were able to tack on four more runs to extend their lead 9-3. Jose Guzman then trotted out to the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning in relief for Schoenle. WKU went three up and three down to end the sixth inning. 

The Bearcats were able to tack on one more run in the top of the seventh inning to give them a 10-3 lead. Both teams would not score again until the top of the ninth when the Bearcats extended their lead on a RBI double by senior Jake Hansen. 

The Bearcats won the last game of the series, and the first of their season 11-3. 

Up next, WKU will travel to New Orleans, Louisiana to play a three game series at Tulane next week on March 5-7. Then the Hilltoppers close out the four game road trip at Kentucky on March 9.

“Just staying focused, sticking with our game plan, and doing what  coach [Ben Wolgamot] and coach [Pawlowski]  talk about and I think we’re going to be fine next weekend,” Sims said of preparing for Tulane. 

Baseball beat reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Wyatt on Twitter at @WyattSparkman3