Hilltoppers unable to slow down UK in defeat

The Kentucky bullpen cheers after a home run against WKU on April 23 in Bowling Green Ballpark. UK won the game 15-4.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (18-20-1) was defeated 15-4 by Kentucky (21-20) for the second time this season, giving the Wildcats the season sweep.

“I thought the game was competitive for half the game. The second half of the game they did a good job,” head coach John Pawlowski said.“They put some good swings on it, got themselves in really good positive hitting counts. When you do that against anybody, especially a team like that, they’re going to swing the bats.”

WKU went away from its usual starting rotation and went with junior right hander Jeff Ciocco, making his second start of the season.

The Wildcats worked their way onto the scoreboard first in the second inning after catcher Marshall Gei hit a triple to bring in sophomore center fielder Cam Hill from second.

In the next inning, senior right fielder Ryan Johnson started the inning with a solo home run to extend their lead to two.

The Hilltoppers had a rough start to the game after only getting one hit in the first three innings, which was a single from junior right fielder Jake Sanford.

The action picked up in the fourth inning after a Jack Wilson walk and a Sanford single, junior designated hitter Dillon Nelson hit a RBI single that brought Wilson in to bring the Hilltoppers within one.

Jack Lambert replaced Ciocco on the mound for the fifth inning and the Wildcats tipped all the momentum back in their favor.

UK started the inning with back to back solo home runs first by junior second baseman Zeke Lewis and then by Johnson for his second of the day.

Lambert was then pulled and replaced by sophomore reliever Maddex Richardson. The Wildcats scored one more run on a wild pitch to extend the lead to four.

WKU picked up steam in the bottom of the sixth after a Wilson single and a Sanford double put them in position to score. A sacrifice fly by Nelson brought in Wilson, and Sanford later scored on a wild pitch to pull within three.

Any momentum WKU gained, UK immediately snuffed out.

The Wildcats went on to score nine runs combined in the last three innings, highlighted by a three-run homer by senior left fielder Ryan Shinn in the eighth, which WKU couldn’t recover from for the rest of the game.

Every pitcher that took the mound for the Hilltoppers gave up two runs or more except for Drew Strohm who only pitched two-thirds of the ninth inning

The pitching staff gave up seven walks and only had eight strikeouts combined after facing 51 batters total.

“You know how it gets, it [team morale] gets low, but we have to try to keep it high and keep battling at every at bat,” Sanford said.

Sanford went 4-for-4 with two doubles and scored twice. Dillon Nelson went 1-for-3 with two RBIs. Jack Wilson went 1-for-3 and scored twice.

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.

“When you look at where we are in the conference, we kind of control our own destiny,” Pawlowski said. “We play well we got a chance to do the things we want to do.”

UTSA is currently 19-22 (8-10 C-USA) and have won four of their last five games, including taking their last series against Alabama-Birmingham 2-1 and defeating Houston Baptist 11-8 on Tuesday.

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.