Hilltoppers get top 25 win, drop series to Southern Miss

Second baseman Steven Kraft (1) tries to catch a throw from catcher Colin Butkiewicz (9) during WKU’s baseball game vs. UTSA on March 31 at Nick Denes Field. WKU defeated UTSA 9-5.

Matt Stahl

WKU baseball played an up and down weekend series at Southern Mississippi, dropping two of the three games against the 13th-ranked Golden Eagles.

The series did see several positive aspects for the Hilltoppers, who got their first win against a ranked team since April 2015, when they beat third-ranked University of Louisville. Jacob Rhinesmith hit his 10th home run of the season and stole his 10th base of the season during the series, becoming only the second player in NCAA Division I baseball to do both this season, the first being Bren Spillane from University of Illinois.

The first game of the series was a sloppy affair for WKU as the Hilltoppers had four errors, which the Golden Eagles took advantage of to score their first six runs of the game. Junior pitcher Evan Acosta got the start for the Hilltoppers and pitched three scoreless innings to start the game, before USM opened the scoring in the fourth.

Trailing 5-0 in the top of the sixth inning, WKU broke the scoring drought, as a single by sophomore first baseman Richard Constantine scored Rhinesmith and senior left fielder Colie Currie.

WKU was unable to do any more damage. The game, which already had its start time delayed for lightning, was delayed even further in the eighth inning. The end of the game was then moved to Saturday, when Southern Miss. took the 8-2 victory.

After the delayed game ended, senior Ryan Thurston got the start for the Hilltoppers in the second game of the day. Thurston went six innings, only allowing one run and striking out seven batters to move into second place in program history in strikeouts.

Offensively, WKU had a great day, scoring seven runs in the first five innings and holding on to the lead to get the 7-1 victory, with senior Austin Tibbs going the final 2.2 innings on the mound to end the game.

“After playing that first game, we talked about how we didn’t handle the ball very well and didn’t play very well,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said in a press release. “But I thought we did a tremendous job today. I’m proud of the way we played, coming back after losing that first game.”

Pawlowski also spoke highly of both his team’s offensive play and the play of his pitchers in the second game.

“Ryan Thurston has continually gone out there and done what he’s capable of doing,” Pawlowski said. “Austin Tibbs did a tremendous job out of the bullpen. Offensively, we took some really good swings against some really good arms of Southern Miss.”

In the third game of the series, things could not have gone worse for the Hilltoppers. Southern Miss. scored seven runs by the end of the third inning and WKU was only able to manage one run.

The game ended 14-1 after 6.5 innings, due to Conference USA’s Sunday 10-run rule, dropping the Hilltoppers to 15-16 and 5-7 in C-USA.

“Disappointing loss,” Pawlowski said in a radio interview after the game. “Long bus trip back, but, you know, a lot more baseball to go.”

The Hilltoppers will be on the road against Vanderbilt on Tuesday before coming home to play Marshall in a weekend series.

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