WKU tops Murray State, UTSA series up next

Junior left-handed pitcher Evan Acostra (31) pitches during the Hilltoppers’ 13-1 loss to Southern Mississippi on Sunday at Nick Denes Field.

Tyler Mansfield

A powerful offensive second inning propelled the WKU baseball team to a hard fought 10-9 victory over Murray State on Tuesday evening at Nick Denes Field.

The Hilltoppers (10-20 overall, 3-6 Conference USA), who snapped a four-game losing streak, recorded six runs on six hits in the frame and showed plenty of momentum early. In the inning, WKU tallied three singles, a double, a triple and a home run to take the early 6-0 advantage.

“It’s been frustrating – we’ve had our moments, we just haven’t played consistent, championship baseball – and that’s where we’re at,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said. “Hopefully they can continue to gain some confidence.”

The Racers (15-13) responded with a five-run inning of their own in top of the third to bring themselves right back into the mix.

Starting redshirt freshman right-handed pitcher Caleb Bruner suffered an arm injury after throwing just 10 pitches and was replaced by junior righty Devon Loomis, who tossed just 20. Junior right-hander Conner Boyd entered and did most of the work on the mound, giving up five hits and two runs while striking out two batters in 3.1 innings.

“That one was for Caleb Bruner,” senior outfielder Chris Rogers said. “He’s been working his butt off all year and to come back, and that happen to it, that sucks. That was for Caleb.”

On the opposite side of the ball, junior centerfielder Colie Currie went 3-for-4 while freshman left fielder Wyatt Featherston went 2-for-3 to go along with an RBI. In its loss, Murray State was led by senior catcher Tyler Lawrence.

WKU outhit the Racers, 14-11, on the day and had an overall hitting percentage of .389 (14-of-36) while MSU had a mark of .314 (11-of-35).

“I’m excited about what we did offensively,” Pawlowski said. “Fourteen hits, 10 runs. I know offensively these guys have worked so hard, and it’s great to see them have some success. Hopefully this will give them some confidence.”

Currie tripled to centerfield for the game’s first hit while junior first baseman Grayson Ivey singled to the Murray State shortstop for an RBI single. Shortly after the run, Featherstone singled, and freshman shortstop Kevin Lambert followed up with a two-run RBI double to put the Toppers up 3-0.

The advantage soon doubled on junior designated hitter Kaleb Duckworth’s RBI single and senior right fielder Thomas Peter’s seventh homerun of the season to put WKU up 6-0 after two innings.

“It was really big, Currie said of the win. “We got off to a good start.”

But the Racers fired right back.

Murray State got its first hit on senior first baseman Jack Hranec’s single that leadoff the third. After a fielder’s choice and a pair of walks by Loomis, the Racers scored their first run after Hranec crossed the plate on a walk. Boyd replaced Loomis on the bump after the run.

Murray State scored its first run on a walk by Loomis and a grand slam from Lawrence brought it to within a single run at 6-5.

Following the five-run frame by Murray State, WKU’s offensive continued to be effective. Currie leadoff the bottom half of the third with a single and a double from Featherston plated Currie, giving the Tops a 7-5 lead entering the fourth.

WKU added a run on Ivey’s RBI single in the bottom of the fifth, which scored senior catcher Hunter Wood and the Toppers led by three after five complete innings.

Trailing 8-5, MSU added three runs to its side of the scoreboard in the sixth to even the affair at 8-8. Hrancec tripled for an RBI while Robinson hit an RBI single and junior second baseman Kipp Moore got an RBI double.

Moore’s sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the seventh gave Murray State its first lead of the night at 9-8, but the WKU pinch hitter Rogers blasted a solo homer over the bullpen in left to tie things yet again.

“It was a big hit,” Rogers noted. “Our offense played great today. We really needed this win – and we’re happy we got it.”

With Currie on third and junior second baseman Tyler Robertson up to bat, Robertson connected on a pitch for an RBI sacrifice fly that plated Currie and gave the Hilltoppers the walk-off victory.

“It’s really big, especially going into conference play this weekend,” Currie added in regards to the win. “As long as we can keep this up, we’re right there.”

WKU now travels to San Antonio for a three-game Conference USA series at UTSA, beginning Friday at 6 p.m.

The Roadrunners (14-13, 4-5 C-USA) are coming off a 5-2 home loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and host Prairie View A&M on Wednesday before welcoming in the Hilltoppers.

WKU has a 5-1 all-time record against UTSA, including a sweep in Bowling Green last year. The three victories came in results of 7-5, 14-10 and 8-5, respectively.

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