Hilltoppers get crucial Conference USA wins over UAB

Red shirt senior infielder Tyler Robertson (6) jumps to catch a throw as Marshall infielder Tucker Linder (6) runs to first base during the first game in a double header against Marshall on April 13 at Nick Denes Field. WKU fell 6-5 in the first game, but won 6-2 in the second that day.

Matt Stahl

WKU baseball used timely offense and quality relief pitching to take two out of three games over Alabama-Birmingham.

The Hilltoppers took one game Friday and then split a Saturday doubleheader with UAB, with all three games being held at Regions Field, home of the Double-A Birmingham Barons.

“They were never out of it,” head coach John Pawlowski said in a postgame radio interview. “Certainly we put some big swings together when we needed and found a way to walk out of here winning this series.”

In the first game of the series, the score was tied 2-2 after the first inning before both starting pitchers hit their groove. Senior pitcher Ryan Thurston went six innings, striking out five batters, and Blazers’ starter Tanner Graham held the Hilltoppers to those two runs until the eighth inning.

In the top of the eighth, WKU got key hits from senior left fielder Colie Currie, sophomore infielder Ray Zuberer III and freshman right fielder Luke Brown to make the score 4-2. That chased Graham out of the game in favor of reliever Riley Davis.

Davis immediately gave up a RBI single to junior catcher Colin Butkiewicz, and the Hilltopper offense did not let up from there, scoring eight runs the inning.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Blazers scored two, along with another in the ninth, but were unable to catch the Hilltoppers who added three more runs in the ninth to get the 13-5 victory.

In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, it looked to be a pitcher’s duel between WKU senior starter Paul Kirkpatrick and UAB junior Tyler Gates until the fourth inning.

In the bottom of the fourth, UAB put up six straight hits to score five runs, forcing a Kirkpatrick exit. Senior reliever Conner Boyd came in to put an end to the inning. Neither team was able to score for the rest of the game, which ended 5-0 in favor of the Blazers.

In the second game of the doubleheader and rubber game of the series, WKU got off to an early lead when junior infielder Nick Brunson tripled in Zuberer and Brown.

In the fourth inning, UAB was able to tie the game, and in the sixth, despite WKU scoring another two runs, the Blazers took a 5-4 lead. The score stayed that way until the ninth inning.

In the top of the ninth the Hilltoppers loaded the bases and tied the game on senior infielder Tyler Robertson’s two-RBI sacrifice fly. WKU then got the winning two runs on a Butkiewicz triple, and added one more on a single by Brown before senior closer Ben Morrison came in to shut the door.

“You can’t really script that,” Pawlowski said in his radio interview. “We had a lot of adversity during the course of the day [Saturday]. You think back to, you know, we got shut out the first game and didn’t swing it very well, and then to do what we did tonight, you know, on the road, in a conference game against a very good team, I’m just really proud of our guys.”

The series brings the Hilltoppers’ record to 19-20 and their conference record to 9-9. WKU sits in sixth place in C-USA, and will play Tuesday at Louisville before coming home for a weekend series against Louisiana Tech.

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