Hilltoppers move within a game of first place in C-USA

Senior infielder Nick Brunson runs to first base during WKU’s game against Northern Kentucky University on February 15, 2019.

Kaden Gaylord

WKU won its third series in Conference USA play against the Charlotte 49ers 2-0-1. The unbeaten weekend put WKU one game out of first place in the standings.

“[This series] shows that we battle no matter what and we like to play all the way through the end,” junior right fielder Jake Sanford said.

Game 1 saw both teams go back and forth scoring multiple runs in the early going, as a total of 11 runs were scored in the first three innings alone. WKU scored one more run in the sixth inning to take an 8-4 lead that stood for the rest of the game.

After the 49ers scored four runs in the second inning, sophomore relief pitcher Dalton Shoemake came in and pitched a shutout for the remainder of the game. He only gave up three hits while throwing five strikeouts and retiring 22 of the 25 batters he faced in 7.2 innings pitched.

In Game 2, the 49ers took an early 4-1 lead before the Hilltoppers had a four-run third inning. Starting with a Ray Zuberer III solo home run, a series of singles and sacrifice fly RBIs helped the Hilltoppers get a 5-4 lead.

WKU scored a run in three of the next five innings while holding the 49ers to one run for the rest of the game to win 8-5.

Game 3 was WKU’s highest-scoring game of the season, but it didn’t see a true ending.

In a span of three innings, the teams scored 20 runs combined. Going into the ninth inning, WKU had a two-run lead, but the Hilltoppers relinquished it after giving up an error and hit-by-pitch that tied the game.

Before the game, both teams agreed to a 3:30 p.m. curfew because Charlotte had a flight to get on later in the day. The Hilltoppers failed to score in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the game ended in a 13-13 tie.

“The team is disappointed, obviously. I thought both teams had their chances to win the game,” head coach John Pawlowski said. “We settled on a curfew before the game started, and the curfew ended up getting us, but I really like the way our team competed.”

Sanford went 9 for 14 in his plate appearances for the series, including seven RBIs and two home runs. Senior infielder Davis Sims went 5 for 12 in plate appearances with two RBIs and five runs scored.

Freshman outfielder Jackson Swiney went 6 for 11 at the plate with three RBIs and three runs scored.

The Hilltoppers’ next game will come on Tuesday against Vanderbilt, the sixth-ranked team in the country. The Hilltoppers have lost four games in a row against the Commodores. WKU’s last win against Vanderbilt was in 2014, where the Hilltoppers won 3-2.

The Commodores are 22-6 and won their last series against Tennessee 2-1. “It will be an exciting test for us,” Sims said. “Like I said, we are playing really good baseball right now, and I know a lot of the guys are excited to go down to Nashville and see what we’re made of.”

The Hilltoppers’ next series will be against Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Last season, the Hilltoppers lost the series 2-1. The series will begin Friday night at 6:30 p.m., continue Saturday at 4 p.m. and wrap up Sunday at 1 p.m.

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