The WKU baseball team (8-3) outscored USC Upstate (8-3) 32-27 over the weekend, claiming its third consecutive 2-1 series win at Cleveland S. Harley Baseball Park in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The Hilltoppers happened to log their highest-scoring three-game set during their first weekend road swing of 2020, handily defeating a high-quality Spartan squad in the process.
Head coach John Pawlowski picked up his 600th career win on Sunday evening, and the WKU skipper thanked his supporters for the role they’ve played in getting him to where he is now.
“I’ve been very fortunate throughout my coaching career,” Pawlowski said about his milestone in a postgame release. “I’ve had so many great players and great coaches and support staff around me. I’m just thankful that I have the opportunity to coach this great game, and obviously the opportunity to be a part of WKU. So, a special day, no doubt.”
Redshirt junior pitcher Michael Darrell-Hicks took the mound for the Hilltoppers, making his third consecutive series-opening start for WKU in its first road trip of the year.
Darrell-Hicks tossed 4.1 innings, allowing three runs on four hits while fanning three batters.
USC Upstate got the first hit of the game when junior infielder Devin Buckner singled to right field.
But it was the Hilltoppers who struck first on the scoreboard, as senior infielder Matt Phipps tallied an RBI double and scored sophomore outfielder Jackson Swiney to give WKU an early 1-0 lead.
WKU added a run in the third inning before the Hilltoppers found themselves in a jam at the bottom of the third frame. With the bases loaded, the Spartans scored two runs to tie the game at 2-2.
The Spartans smelled blood after the two-run outburst and proceeded to put five unanswered runs on the scoreboard through the fourth and fifth frames, making the score 7-2 in their favor.
USC Upstate continued its run of dominance, barraging the Hilltoppers with four more runs.
Junior outfielder Junior Coleman kick-started a late comeback for WKU, but the Hilltoppers only managed to score three runs in the eighth inning.
USC Upstate claimed a win in game one, 12-7.
“For us to do what we aspire to do, we’ve got to clean up some areas, and that’s one of the things – just too many free bases, ” Pawlowski said in a release. “You do that against any team on the schedule and it’s going to be tough.”
Junior pitcher Sean Bergeron made his third start of the season against the Spartans. Bergeron pitched 5.1 innings and allowed six hits and three runs while fanning six batters.
The Spartans tallied a run in their first crack at swinging the bats, as senior outfielder Julian Rip flew out to center field and made a sacrifice play to score senior infielder Jason Matthews.
After three scoreless innings for WKU, senior outfielder Ray Zuberer III scored senior infielder Richard Constantine for the Hilltoppers’ first run of the game. The Spartans responded with two more runs in the fourth frame and reclaimed a 3-1 lead.
The Hilltoppers scored five unanswered runs between the fifth and eighth innings. Graduate infielder Davis Sims led WKU with two RBIs during the process of taking a 6-3 lead.
The scoring didn’t cease there, as the Spartans added three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and forced the Hilltoppers to play an extra-inning game for the second time this season.
Constantine hit the game-winning single and gave WKU a 7-6 lead after redshirt senior infielder Sam McElreath tallied a single to start the tenth inning. Coleman scored an unearned run after Zuberer III reached first base on a fielder’s choice, making the final score 8-6.
WKU evened the series heading into the final game, as redshirt junior Bailey Sutton earned his first win of the season in relief and Zuberer collected a career-high four-RBI game.
“It was just a really hard-fought game,” Pawlowski said in a release. “The intensity of this game was incredible. I give our guys credit, they battled back. So, a great team win today for the Tops.”
Junior pitcher Aristotle Peter made his third appearance of the season against the Spartans. He tossed for just three innings, surrendering five runs on seven hits while walking one batter.
The Spartans scored in the first frame for the second game in a row, as junior outfielder Jeff Taylor and Buckner took charge early over the Hilltoppers. Two innings later, Sims hit his first home run of the season to pull WKU within one run of USC Upstate at 2-1.
USC Upstate responded in the bottom of the third inning, mounting a three-run surge to open up a 5-1 advantage. Constantine revived WKU’s hopes, hitting a two-RBI single to center field and scoring Phipps and freshman infielder Eric Riffe to pull the Hilltoppers within two runs at 5-3.
The top of the sixth inning saw the Hilltoppers load the bases with just one out. Swiney came up to bat, and the St. Louis native hit a grand slam to right field to give WKU a 7-5 advantage.
Redshirt sophomore Jake Kates came in to relieve redshirt junior Collin Lollar after USC Upstate put runners on first and second with no outs in the bottom half of the sixth.
The Spartans responded after the WKU pitching change, scoring a total of four runs to regain a 9-7 advantage over the reeling Hilltoppers.
Constantine continued to contribute to the run-scoring cause by hitting a single to right field and sending Riffe home to make the score at 9-8. During the next at-bat, Zuberer III hit a single to left field and scored senior infielder Jack Wilson to knot the game up once again at 9-9.
The Hilltoppers added five runs on five hits in the top half of the eighth inning, taking an explosive 14-9 lead over USC Upstate with the home half of the eighth still to come.
WKU was able to tack on three runs in the top of the ninth inning, establishing a 17-9 cushion over USC Upstate. The Spartans left a man on base to end the game, and the Hilltoppers claimed their third straight series win in the team’s highest-scoring affair so far in 2020.
Kates got his second win of the season, logging four innings and allowing two runs to score on three hits. He also fanned seven USC Upstate batters.
“We knew after Friday night’s game it was going to be one of those challenging series,” Pawlowski said in a release. “Today, both teams had their opportunities to win. We were up, they were up, it was back-and-forth. Then we finally had an opportunity to extend that lead and we certainly took advantage of that there late in the game.”
WKU will be back in action at Nick Denes Field this week, hosting Belmont (9-3) on Tuesday and Power 5 Purdue (6-4) for a three-game set on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
First pitch against the Bruins is set for 3 p.m. The Hilltoppers and Boilermakers will get underway at 3 p.m., 1 p.m., and 1 p.m., respectively, across the weekend series.
Reporter Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.