Hilltoppers take series over Eastern Illinois despite Sunday loss

WKU starting pitcher Reece Calvert throws a pitch during the Hilltoppers’ 8-1 loss to Eastern Illinois in Nick Denes Field on Sunday.

Kaden Gaylord

The Hilltoppers won their second home series of the year against Eastern Illinois 2-1, making their overall record 6-2 for the year. That matches their start to the season last year.

For most of the series, the Hilltoppers had to battle back from being down early, facing a 5-0 deficit in game one and a 4-2 deficit in game two. The Hilltoppers ultimately came back to win both games.

“You play a three-game set and win two out of three, we’ll take that,” head coach John Pawlowski said after Sunday’s loss. “Unfortunately we didn’t play very well today.”

In the first game, WKU battled back after being down 5-0 by scoring four runs in both the 4th and 6th innings. The turning point was a 3-RBI double by junior infielder Jack Wilson, which gave WKU a 9-6 lead.

EIU battled back to send the game into extra innings before the Hilltoppers won in the 10th on a walk-off balk, letting Jackson Swiney in to score the winning run. The final score was 10-9 and the win went to junior pitcher Eric Crawford.

Wilson’s performance stood out in the first game, with two hits on three at-bats, three RBIs and two runs scored. Redshirt junior outfielder Dillon Nelson also performed well, going 2 for 5 from the plate with two RBIs.

Game two of the Saturday doubleheader followed a similar formula to the first. WKU struck first, scoring two runs in the 1st inning, but the Hilltoppers found themselves down 4-2 in the 4th before scoring two runs to tie the game. WKU scored the go-ahead run in the 8th inning on a sacrifice fly by junior catcher Matt Phipps that allowed junior outfielder Jake Sanford to score.

The offensive standouts in game two were redshirt junior infielder Sam McElreath, who went 2 for 3 with an RBI, and Phipps, who was 1-of-2 from the plate and also added an RBI. The win went to senior Jacob Green and graduate senior Joe Filosa got his first save of the year.

“First game we were down 5-0,” Wilson said after the games on Saturday. “Then we worked our way back, battled every inning and then came back and got into the game, and then second game we were down 4-2, battled the whole game, stayed in the game and took over at the end.”

In Sunday’s third game of the series, the Panthers held control of the game from start to finish. They held a close lead up until the 6th inning when they drove in 5 runs. That made their lead 7-0 and put the game, which ended 8-1, out of reach.

EIU’s starting pitcher, Spenser Dexter, only allowed four hits and one run in the win, while throwing seven strikeouts in 8.1 innings pitched.

“They were ready to play, I think the biggest thing is that they pitched outstanding,” Pawlowski said. Their pitcher did a great job, kept us off balance, never really had a chance to get anything going, any momentum going.”

The Hilltoppers will be back in action against Murray State at 3 p.m. on Wednesday at Nick Denes Field before heading to Florida to participate in the Cox Diamond Invitational. Their first game of the event will start Friday at 6 p.m against North Florida. The Hilltoppers will also play Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday and Tennessee on Sunday.

Baseball reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]