WKU baseball looking to halt recent skid

Junior, first baseman Jake Sanford hit the ball during WKU’s game against UAB on March 16. Sanford was just name C-USA hitter of the week.

Kaden Gaylord

After officially clinching a berth in the upcoming Conference USA Tournament last Saturday, the WKU baseball team (24-25-1, 15-11-1 C-USA) has dropped three straight contests — giving up 34 runs in the process.

After sweeping their series against Rice two weeks ago, the Hilltoppers defeated Louisiana Tech 5-4 last Friday and moved to 15-9-1 in C-USA play.

Following the victory, fourth-year head coach John Pawlowski got involved in a bench-clearing brawl. Pawlowski still had 24 wins once the dust settled, tying for WKU’s most overall wins since joining C-USA prior to 2015.

WKU needed a Middle Tennessee State loss last Saturday to completely ensure its spot in the conference tournament. The Hilltoppers got their wish, as Florida International defeated the Blue Raiders 7-3 on May 11.

At that point, the program was guaranteed to finish above Alabama-Birmingham (10-17), FlU (11-16), Charlotte (10-16-1) and MTSU (11-16) — clinching a C-USA tournament berth for the first time ever.

Since then Pawlowski’s squad has been embroiled in a slump.

WKU proceeded to drop its doubleheader against LA Tech on Sunday, allowing the Bulldogs to outscore the Hilltoppers 14-4 across two contests. LA Tech handed a red-faced WKU squad its first doubleheader sweep of the season.

Both games ended after seven innings due to changes in the schedule for inclement weather. The losses dropped WKU’s overall and C-USA marks by two games, but the Hilltoppers still remained at third place in the conference.

Last night, WKU traveled to Clarksville, Tennessee, and gave up a season-high 20 runs to non-conference foe Austin Peay. The Hilltoppers put up 12 runs themselves, but got outscored 8-0 in the last four innings, losing 20-12.

The Governors notched a season sweep with the win, previously picking up a 5-3 win over WKU at Nick Denes Field on March 19.

Third-place WKU, sitting at under .500 on the year, will head into its last series of the regular season against fifth-place Old Dominion.

ODU is 33-18 on the season, but only 14-13 in C-USA play. The Hilltoppers and Monarchs haven’t played each other since the 2016 season, when ODU swept WKU and scored double-digit runs in one out of the three games.

First pitch tomorrow is set for 5 p.m. at Nick Denes Field. Friday’s first pitch will also be thrown at 5 p.m., immediately following Senior Night festivities slated to begin at 4:30 p.m. Saturday’s contest has a 1 p.m. start time.

The Hilltoppers can still finish anywhere from third to sixth in the final conference standings. The top-eight finishers, one of which is already guaranteed to be WKU, will head to The Magnolia State next week.

The eight-team, double-elimination C-USA Tournament will take place from May 22-26th at MGM Park in Biloxi, Mississippi for the third straight season. 

All tournament games will be streamed on ESPN+, with the C-USA championship game set to be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.

Baseball reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @_KLG3.