WKU falls to Charlotte in weekend slate

WKU junior infielder Tyler Robertson (16) throws for a double to first base to get Charlotte senior outfielder Zach Jarrett (10) out as well as sophomore Reece Hampton (2) during the Hilltoppers extra-inning loss on Thursday April 13, 2017 at Nick Deans Field.

Tyler Mansfield

Entering the weekend in the race for a birth into the Conference USA Tournament, the WKU baseball team was swept by visiting Charlotte and now finds itself out of the postseason race.

The Hilltoppers (11-25 overall, 4-11 C-USA), who have seen their past two seasons end at the conclusion of regular-season play, now sit in 12th place out of 12 teams in the league after entering this prior weekend tied with three other opponents for eighth.

Despite suffering a 16-5 defeat in Friday’s game 2, WKU fell by just two runs in the other two meetings, 6-4 and 3-1, respectively.

In Thursday’s 6-4 loss, the Toppers and 49ers were tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the 11th inning and in contention of walking off, but Grayson Ivey was called out on a force play at second base that would have won WKU the game.

“I thought we played extremely hard,” Head Coach John Pawlowski said of the series opening heartbreaker. “I thought we had several opportunities to find a way to win that game, but unfortunately it didn’t go the way we had hoped.”

Prior to what Pawlowski called “a tough way to end a hard fought ball game,” Colie Currie was hit by a pitch to lead off the 11th for the WKU offense. Soon after, Paul Murray came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded and, on a 1-2 count grounded to UNCC shortstop Hunter Jones, who made the throw to second for the force out on Ivey.

After being knotted at 4-all, the Toppers allowed a pair of Charlotte runs in the ensuing inning and fell short.

Following the setback, the 49ers’ bats came alive Friday, as they tallied 19 hits on the day to go along with 16 runs, causing a havoc for the WKU pitching staff.

Leading by just three at 5-2 after five, Charlotte exploded for nine runs in the top of the sixth to take total control. It reached base with its first eight batters off Topper starter Paul Kirkpatrick and relievers Devon Loomis and Michael Hicks.

“One thing is that guys have to be competitive,” Pawlowski said when asked how to control a team that hits the ball the way Charlotte did. “We were down 5-0, then jumped  back in it 5-2 and then they put a big number on the board. We just weren’t able to overcome what they did there in that one inning.”

Despite losing, pitcher Ben Morrison replaced Hicks on the mound and threw his first pitches since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He threw an inning, and the manager says that was a positive.

“It was awesome; I’m so excited for him,” Pawlowski said. “All the hard work and time effort he’s put into it and the work the trainers have done preparing him and to see him go out there is great. That was one of the positives tonight.”

In Saturday’s series finale, Western would battle with the 49ers in the second-straight extra-inning affair, but a two-run 11th from Charlotte was the difference.

Charlotte scored the game’s first run in the top of the fifth on Brett Netzer’s RBI double before an error by the 49ers allowed WKU’s Leiff Clarkson to cross the plate and even the decision.

A Jackson Mims homerun and a called balk that scored an additional run gave Charlotte the Game 3 victory and series sweep.

WKU, who has lost four-straight, returns to action on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m., as it travels to Murray State for the first of two midweek contests, as the Tops host Austin Peay Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Reporter Tyler Mansfield can be reached at (270) 935-0007 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @CallMeMansfield.