Hilltopper baseball focused on bonding, beating expectations

Redshirt sophomore infielder Marshall Smith waits to go into a batting cage during practice before their game against Austin Peay on Wednesday April 19, 2017 at Nick Denes Field.

Matt Stahl

Improvement and team chemistry were the focus for WKU baseball during the team’s 2018 media day Wednesday afternoon at Nick Denes Field.

Head coach John Pawlowski stressed the need for the team to bond with 19 new players joining the Hilltoppers this season, their second in a row with a substantial amount of new talent.

“I think the difference this year is we brought in more experienced guys,” Pawlowski said. “We went out and we brought in some more junior college players. This league is very good and in order to make up ground in this league you have to have experience.”

The Hilltoppers were picked to finish last in Conference USA this season in a conference preseason poll, which is where they finished last year after going 6-24 in C-USA play. Pawlowski said that he felt they could do better than predicted if the team was able to gel.

“The biggest thing for us is trying to figure out the pieces of who goes where,” Pawlowski said “We’ve got some situations where guys are still going to be fighting for time and looking for opportunities and that’s what this preseason is for.”

Pawlowski said that he was pleased so far with how the team has looked in the preseason.

“When you don’t have to coach attitude and effort, that’s a good sign,” Pawlowski said. “This group has worked really hard to get themselves in a position ready for opening day.”

Along with Pawlowski, several members of the team spoke of their optimism for the coming season. Senior pitcher Ben Morrison agreed with Pawlowski that the team was showing good effort.

“Everybody’s full bore every time we practice,” Morrison said. “They’re getting in the weight room when they need to, putting in the extra work. The guys they recruited are just so talented, we’re ready to go.”

Morrison, who finished the 2017 season with a 3.52 ERA in 7 appearances, also spoke on the challenges of building team chemistry.

“It’s kind of tough, but coach has done a good job,” Morrison said. “We’ve done a lot of team events, you know we saw a couple movies, we’ve done a ping-pong tournament, just to bond the guys and get everybody on the same page.”

Senior outfielder Colie Currie will be making the switch from center to left field for the 2018 season. Currie spoke about the switch and the challenges that go along with it.

“If you would have asked any of our outfielders to switch, all of us would have said yeah.” Currie said. “It comes down to, it’s not really about us personally, it’s just about what’s going help this team be successful.”

Currie, coming off a season where he started 54 out of WKU’s 55 games with a .311 batting average on 206 at bats with five home runs and 26 RBI, took an optimistic point of view on the Hilltoppers’ prospects this season.

“I expect to finish top five,” Currie said. “A lot of us, most our juco guys came in from successful programs and a lot of guys have been part of successful programs, so we don’t really – we’re not worried about the preseason picking, but we do expect to have a great year.”

WKU opens the season Friday at the University of Memphis, and will have it’s home opener February 20th against Belmont University.

Reporter Matt Stahl can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @mattstahl97