Hilltoppers turn attention to Kentucky after series loss

WKU’s Nick Brunson catches a late throw to second base against FAU on Sunday. Brunson still tagged a career high three players out in the 6-4 loss to the Owls at Nick Denes Field.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU lost its third Conference USA series in a row 2-1 against Florida Atlantic, moving the team to 18-19-1 on the season and fourth place in league standings at 9-8-1.

“That’s one of the two or three best teams in the league, and I thought our guys competed very well against them,” head coach John Pawlowski said. “Ultimately, we came out today with the right mindset, trying to find a way to win today. We gave ourselves a chance but weren’t able to take care of business.” 

FAU took control of the first game early on, scoring three runs in the first inning, while the Hilltoppers were held scoreless for the first three innings. A Matt Phipps RBI double and a three-run home run by Jake Sanford tied the game at four by the end of the fifth inning.

The Owls scored in three of the final four innings, while the Hilltoppers only scored once in the final four innings. WKU being outbatted 14-8 proved to be the difference, as FAU won the game 8-5.

Game 2 flipped the script, as WKU scored six runs in the second inning, highlighted by a Jack Wilson two-RBI single and a Sanford three-run homer. FAU didn’t have an answer for senior pitcher Troy Newell, as he gave up zero runs until the fifth inning and totalled seven strikeouts before being pulled from the game.

The Hilltoppers went on to score five more runs in the contest, including three in the seventh inning, while redshirt sophomore relief pitcher Colin Lollar only gave up two more runs. WKU concluded the game with a victory, 11-4.

“Over the season, for me, it is being consistent and throwing pitches for strikes and having a good command and going in with a mindset to dominate,” Newell said. 

In the final game, WKU took control early by scoring three runs in the first two innings. But the Hilltoppers allowed FAU to chip away and keep itself in the game. WKU had four straight scoreless innings, while FAU scored in three of four of those innings. Two runs in the eighth made the difference, giving the Owls a 6-4 win and the series victory.

The Hilltoppers’ next game is against in-state opponent Kentucky. Earlier this season, WKU traveled to Lexington and lost in shutout fashion, 15-0.

WKU only tallied three hits compared to 13 for the Wildcats. The Hilltoppers also struck out nine times in their 28 at-bats, while Kentucky struck out 10 times in 38 at-bats.

Wildcats infielder Coltyn Kessler went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and one run scored. Kentucky designated hitter T.J. Collett went 2-for-4 with four RBIs, two runs scored and a home run, while their first baseman Dalton Reed went 2-for-5 with four RBIs and two runs scored.

“It’s going to take everything [to beat Kentucky], honestly,” junior outfielder Ray Zuberer said. “They’re a good ball club — SEC — but we are capable of beating them.”

The game will take place at Bowling Green Ballpark on Tuesday at 5 p.m.

 After its game Tuesday, WKU heads to Texas for its next conference series against Texas-San Antonio. The Hilltoppers have lost four of their last six against the Roadrunners and haven’t won a series against them since sweeping them in 2016.

UTSA is currently 18-22 (8-10 C-USA) and have won three of their last four games, including taking their last series against the University of Alabama at Birmingham 2-1.

The first game will take place on Friday at 6 p.m. and is followed by games on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at noon.

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