The WKU baseball team (10-5) faced off against Power 5 Purdue (7-7) over the weekend, and the Hilltoppers claimed their fourth consecutive 2-1 series win at Nick Denes Field.
Prior to this weeked, WKU and Purdue had met just nine times in program history, with the Boilermakers owning a slight 5-4 edge in the all-time series against the Hilltoppers.
WKU had come out victorious in its past four matchups against Purdue, including a 5-0 home victory on March 2, 2008, which was previously the most recent meeting between the two sides.
The Hilltoppers had tremendous success in the first two games of the weekend, outscoring Purdue 19-5.
But the Boilermakers exploded in the final contest of the three-game set, posting 19 runs and increasing their total so much that Purdue managed to outscore the Hilltoppers 24-20 during the overall series.
“In all facets of the game there’s stuff we have to continue to work on and clean up,” head coach John Pawlowski said. “When you look at the weekend, sure you win two out of three, but I would have hoped we came out with a better mindset and a better approach today. They’ve got to learn from it.”
“I like where we are at as a team,” Pawlowski continued. “Obviously today was not a very good game, but overall I feel like these guys know when we play our best baseball, we can play with anybody.”
Redshirt junior Michael Darrell-Hicks made his fourth consecutive series-opening start for WKU against the Boilermakers. He picked up a win and improved to a 2-1 record, tossing five innings while allowing seven hits, three runs and striking out a career-high nine Purdue batters.
Junior Bo Hofstra picked up the loss in his first start of the season for the Boilermakers. Hofstra worked 2.1 innings while allowing seven hits, five runs and fanning one Hilltopper batter.
The Boilermakers wasted no time getting the first hit of the game, as senior outfielder Skyler Hunter hit a stand-up double on the first pitch of the day. Sophomore infielder Evan Albrecht then hit a single to put runners in the corners with no outs.
Senior catcher Zac Fascia scored Hunter from third base on a fielder’s choice play to second base, giving Purdue an early 1-0 lead over the Hilltoppers.
Senior infielder Jack Wilson retaliated at the bottom of the first, recording a stand-up double of his own for WKU. In the next Hilltopper at-bat, senior infielder Richard Constantine doubled to left center and advanced Wilson to third base.
Senior outfielder Ray Zuberer III scored both Wilson and Constantine on a single down the left field line, grabbing a 2-1 lead over Purdue on the third hit of the game for the Hilltoppers.
Through three frames of work, Darrell-Hicks was one strikeout shy of his season-high eight Ks, which he accomplished during his first start of the season on Feb. 15.
The Hilltoppers continued their scoring surge in the third, adding four runs to take a 6-1 lead.
During the scoring run, senior catcher Matt Phipps hit a single back at Hofstra. The ball struck Hofstra’s leg, ultimately taking him out of the game. Sophomore Kyle Wade came on in relief.
The Boilermakers rallied, adding two runs during the top of the fourth and cutting the Purdue deficit to 6-3.
Darrell-Hicks got his eighth K of the day in the fourth, tying his season-high. He exceeded that mark during the top of the fifth, striking out Fascia for his ninth strikeout of the game.
“I was just trying to throw strikes,” Darrell-Hicks said. “My slider was going and I was locating my fastball in and out, which led to strikeouts.”
Redshirt sophomore Jake Kates came in to relieve Darrell-Hicks after five innings of work, and he later recorded his first save of the season for WKU.
Sophomore outfielder Jackson Swiney led off the seventh by bombing his third home run of the season over the right center field wall, increasing the Hilltopper lead to 7-3.
“The wind helped me a little bit on that one,” Swiney said. “I got behind 0-2 in that at-bat and luckily the pitcher elevated a fastball and I was able to barrel it out.”
Freshman infielder Eric Riffe scored the last run of the game on a wild pitch, making the final score 8-3. Wilson and Swiney led the Hilltoppers with three hits each in the game.
Junior Sean Bergeron started for the fourth time this season, picking up his second win of the year. The Crosby, Texas, native recorded a complete-game effort on the mound, allowing nine hits and two runs while fanning three Purdue batters.
Bergeron guided WKU to its 10th victory of 2020 with the first complete-game by a WKU pitcher since March 25, 2018. The last time WKU reached the 10-win mark in 14 games or less was 2016. It was also the quickest WKU had hit the 10-win mark in terms of date — March 7 — since at least 1979.
“Just filling up the strike zone and letting your defense work,” Bergeron said about his performance. “They were behind me all day today, so I did my job and they did their job.”
Redshirt sophomore Cory Brooks took his second loss of the year for Purdue. The Boilermaker starter worked 4.1 frames, allowing nine hits and eight runs while fanning one WKU batter.
The game’s first hit came from Wilson in the bottom of the opening frame. After getting WKU on base early in the contest, Wilson then advanced to third base on a wild pitch.
The Hilltoppers were denied an early scoring chance when Wilson was tagged out at home following a single from Zuberer III.
Bergeron was called for a balk in the second, eventually allowing junior outfielder Ben Nisle to score the first run of the day for the Boilermakers.
WKU responded in the bottom of the second, as Swiney and sophomore infielder Matthew Meyer were both on base when senior infielder Kevin Lambert came up to the plate.
Lambert singled, scoring Swiney to tie the game at 1-1 before Meyer was tagged out at third base to end an interesting second frame.
Graduate infielder Davis Sims crushed his third home run of the season over the left field wall in the third, scoring Constantine and Zuberer III. With the bases loaded shortly thereafter, Lambert smacked a base-clearing double, making the score 7-1 after a six-run frame.
Lambert picked up his fifth RBI in the bottom of the fifth, giving WKU an 8-1 lead. Wilson hit his first home run of the season into the visiting bullpen in the sixth, making the score 9-1.
“Today I just wanted to be relaxed at the plate and have confidence in myself,” Lambert said. “As a lineup, we’re just tough outs and we compete the whole time, so we did some damage today.”
Purdue picked up a run from junior infielder Kyle LaPlante in the eighth, but Constantine hit his first homer of the season, and WKU’s third long ball of the game, to make the score 10-2.
Junior outfielder Justin Carlin scored on a Meyer sacrifice fly to right field, giving WKU an 11-2 lead it never relinquished. WKU clinched a series over Purdue with its 15-hit performance, but Lambert said the Hilltoppers weren’t just looking for another 2-1 series victory.
“We haven’t completed a series sweep, so we’re going to come out with a lot of energy and have the same approach as we did today,” Lambert said ahead of game three.
Junior Dalton Shoemake earned his first start of the season, but he eventually absorbed his first loss after the Boilermakers cut his time on the mound short. Shoemake tossed for the first out of the game, but he allowed four hits and five runs on just 22 pitches.
Freshman Jett Jackson got his first win for the Boilermakers. Jackson shoved for five innings, allowing four hits and one run while striking out three Hilltopper batters.
The game’s first hit came from Hunter, and Albrecht then singled to put two Purdue runners on base with no outs. The next batter, Nisle, was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Fascia scored the first two runs with a single up the middle. Shoemake was replaced with redshirt junior Collin Lollar, but the Columbus, Indiana, native was placed into an unenviable position, eventually yielding four more runs and a 6-0 lead to the Boilermakers.
The Hilltoppers were then forced to use their third pitcher of the day with two outs remaining in the first frame, as Lollar was relieved by junior Riley Boyd.
Following 14 Boilermaker batters and 30 minutes of play in the top of the first, the Hilltoppers had allowed nine runs to score before even coming up to the plate.
Zuberer III slashed for the Hilltoppers’ first hit of the game, but the Hilltoppers weren’t able to mount any sort of response offensively early on.
Boyd exited the game in the second after Purdue junior outfielder Miles Simington ran into him during an attempted forceout at home plate. Senior Jack Lambert then came on for his third appearance of the season.
The Boilermakers added two more runs in the second, making their lead 11-0. Wilson broke the silence for WKU with an RBI single to right field in the second, scoring Swiney from second base to make the Hilltopper deficit 11-1.
Fascia scored an unearned run in the top of the third, extending the Boilermaker lead to 12-1.
WKU went to its bullpen for the fourth time, bringing in junior Ryan Luckett for Lambert in the fourth. Lambert worked two innings, allowing one run while fanning two Boilermaker batters.
Luckett lasted for one out, giving up a run to make the score 13-1. WKU called upon its bullpen for the fifth time, this time sending freshman Lane Diuguid out for his WKU debut.
Diuguid was relieved in the sixth by redshirt senior Colby Taylor, the seventh WKU pitcher of the game. Taylor made his season debut after missing the entire 2019 campaign with an injury.
The Boilermakers continued the onslaught, adding five runs in the sixth to increase their lead to 18-1. During the sixth, Taylor was relieved by freshman Dalton Mesaris.
Redshirt sophomore Alec Kubik came in for Mesaris for the seventh, and Purdue added another run to make the score 19-1. Junior Logan Sabo came in for Kubik in the eighth.
Junior Connor Stephens was the eleventh and final pitcher WKU used. Purdue maintained its 19-1 advantage, avoiding a series sweep with a bludgeoning of the Hilltopper pitching staff.
“Today was one of those games where we didn’t give ourselves a chance,” Pawlowski said. “A very difficult game for us today. Give Purdue credit, they played extremely well today.”
WKU will be back in action on the road this week, traveling to Lexington for an in-state matchup with Power 5 Kentucky (9-6) before heading to Birmingham, Alabama, for its first Conference USA series against Alabama-Birmingham (7-8) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
First pitch against Kentucky is set for 3 p.m. at Kentucky Proud Park.
The Hilltoppers and UAB will get going at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively, across the weekend during WKU’s first three-game set against a league opponent in 2020.
Reporter Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.