Hilltoppers drop crucial series against Louisiana Tech

Freshman outfielder Luke Brown (22) runs to first base against the LA Tech Bulldogs on Friday, April 27. Brown scored a run in the Hilltoppers’ 6-1 victory at Nick Denes field.

Matt Stahl

WKU baseball dropped its weekend series against Louisiana Tech at Nick Denes Field, despite several players finding their way offensively and having every chance to win on Sunday.

The series, which could prove to be crucial in the Hilltoppers’ quest to reach the Conference USA Tournament, featured big offense in the first two games of the series and a close rubber game to wrap it up Sunday.

“I really think it’s important for them to keep the big picture in place,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said after the series. “We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, we’ve got a lot of work yet to do.”

In the first game of the series, senior starting pitcher Ryan Thurston played a great game, going eight innings and only allowing one run while accumulating nine strikeouts. Thurston now has 287 strikeouts for his career, second in program history to Matt Ridings, who had 354.

The Hilltoppers got their offense rolling Friday, getting started in the bottom of the second when sophomore Ray Zuberer III hit a solo home run. WKU then put four more runs on the board in the third, three of which came off a home run by junior catcher Colin Butkiewicz.

The 5-0 score stayed the same until the sixth, when LA Tech got on the board with a solo home run by sophomore center fielder Parker Bates. The Bulldogs were unable to muster any more offense and the Hilltoppers added another run in the eighth to make the final score 6-1.

Saturday’s game was a different story for the Hilltoppers. LA Tech scored early and often, getting two runs in the first inning, three in the second and three in the third to open up an 8-0 lead. WKU put one run on the board in the bottom of the third as sophomore shortstop Kevin Lambert singled in junior third baseman Nick Brunson.

The score remained 8-1 until LA Tech added one in the seventh and three in the eighth. WKU got three runs off a home run by senior infielder Steven Kraft, the tenth of his career. The Bulldogs added one more in the ninth to walk away with the 13-4 victory.

“We had a great win last night, a big win for us Friday night,” Pawlowski said in a press release after Saturday’s game. “Great to see what Steven Kraft did late in the game, but today, obviously we didn’t play well enough to win.”

For Sunday’s game, Pawlowski changed the top of the batting order, moving Kraft, who had been leading off for the Hilltoppers to second in the order and making freshman right fielder Luke Brown the leadoff position

“We hadn’t been swinging the bats real well and Luke Brown’s been doing some great things down there.” Pawlowski said. “We slid him up and put Krafty in the two-hole and just trying to create something, a little more flow in that line up.”

Kraft ended the day perfect at the plate, going 4 for 4 with two RBIs and two walks.

“I was feeling pretty good,” Kraft said. “I’ve been seeing the ball pretty good all year and I’m just not trying to do too much, just put good swings on the ball and let my bat do whatever it needs to do.”

The game went 11 innings before LA Tech senior shortstop Dalton Skelton hit a solo home run off of WKU’s senior closer Ben Morrison. The Bulldogs also added another run on a throwing error and the Hilltoppers were unable to score, dropping the game 4-2.

The loss moves the Hilltoppers to 20-23 on the year and 10-11 in the C-USA. WKU will play at Austin Peay on Tuesday before a weekend series at Charlotte.

Reporter Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @mattstahl97.