Hilltoppers sweep Norse in season’s first series

WKU third baseman Kevin Lambert dives, but misses the ball at Nick Denes Field Feb. 16 in Bowling Green. WKU defeated NKU 5-4 in 10 innings.

Kaden Gaylord

The Hilltoppers started their first series of the year in a positive fashion, scoring 33 runs throughout the weekend, winning their fifth-straight home opener and sweeping Northern Kentucky 3-0 to win the series.

In game one, the Hilltoppers scored five runs in the second inning, setting the tone for the rest of the game where they scored four additional runs. WKU shut out the Norse until the last three innings, giving up three runs to win the game 9-6 and surviving a late scare when NKU scored three runs in the seventh inning.

“We’re learning a lot,” head coach John Pawlowski said. “Like I’ve said, you know, these guys all worked hard, and they’re all waiting for that opportunity to get in there, and you never know when the lights click on.”

Game two was a much closer affair, one WKU won 5-4 in the 10th inning.

NKU took an early lead, scoring two runs in the third and holding the Hilltoppers to zero runs through the first three innings. Junior pitcher Kenny LaPierre came into the game and turned the momentum in favor of the Hilltoppers, striking out the first three batters he faced.

In 4.1 innings of pitching, LaPierre allowed three hits and one earned run, and the WKU offense slowly brought itself back into the game.
The Hilltoppers took the lead in the eighth, then gave up one run at the end of the ninth, tying the game and pushing it into extra innings. WKU kept the Norse off the board in the top of the 10th while getting runners on base due to a slew of mistakes by NKU, including an error by NKU shortstop Collin Luty that ultimately gave WKU the win.

Game three saw a slow start for both teams, as the Hilltoppers gained the lead in the fourth then exploded for seven runs in the fifth inning with the help of a Matt Phipps three-run home run to give them a 9-1 lead.

“I kind of struggled my first three at bats, but I stayed locked in throughout all three games and just kind of find pitches and try to drive them,” Phipps said. “I stayed with my approach, middle of the field.”

WKU went on to score 10 more runs, nine in the seventh inning, to make the blowout even worse and the final score 19-2. WKU had 16 hits, 18 RBIs and 10 walks.

Dalton Shoemake pitched 4.2 innings, only allowing one hit, one walk and five strikeouts while facing only 14 batters.

“The big test was how our guys were going to respond today after winning the first two games,” Pawlowski said. “They came out very professional, worklike attitude in their preparation.”

For the series, WKU had six players bat at a .333 average or better. Jake Sanford batted 5 for 13 with a huge game two, going 3 for 5 while scoring three runs.

Matt Phipps went 6 for 11 with six RBIs and the only home run of the series for the team. In his first series with the team, Davis Sims batted .400 with five runs and two RBIs.

“When I got brought in here, everybody had the mindset that we were going to win, and that showed this weekend,” Sims said. “I love everybody’s energy in the dugout. It was great, and it was just a good overall weekend for us.”

WKU’s next game is Tuesday at Lipscomb at 4 p.m. before the Hilltoppers return home for a weekend series against the Eastern Illinois Panthers.

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