Pitching hurts Hilltoppers as they drop series to Rice

Junior left-handed pitcher Evan Acostra (31) pitches during the Hilltoppers’ 13-1 loss to Southern Mississippi on Sunday, April 2 at Nick Denes Field.

Jeremy Chisenhall

The WKU baseball team dropped its weekend series against the Rice Owls this past weekend as the Hilltopper pitching struggled to stop the Rice offense.

Over the course of the series, WKU walked 17 batters, hit three more, and gave up six home runs. In the end, the Hilltoppers gave up 31 total runs en route to being swept.

“You can’t win if you go out there and your starters don’t get you deep in the game,” Head Coach John Pawlowski said. “We got behind the eight ball, put a lot of pressure on our offense, so we didn’t perform very well this weekend.”

The series started off with Rice winning game one on Friday. The Owls had nine base hits but much of the offense came from free passes, as WKU pitchers walked batters and hit three more for 13 total free passes.

WKU took an early lead in the second inning, as Wyatt Featherston hit a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Thomas Peter. However, Rice answered right back by scoring four runs in the third inning, which was headlined by a solo home run from Tristan Gray to start off the scoring. Gray would also hit an inside-the-park home run later in the game.

WKU answered back with a three-run seventh inning, including a two-RBI single from Thomas Peter, but it wasn’t enough. Rice’s Dane Myers homered in the eighth to push the Owls further ahead, and they’d go on to win 8-4.

With all the walks Rice had in game one, they recorded even more hits in game two on Saturday. They tagged starting pitcher Evan Acosta for seven hits and seven runs in just two innings, although five of those runs were unearned. All seven of them were scored in the second inning, which featured another Dane Myers home run. He drove in three with a blast to left field.

Jeff Ciocco came in after Acosta and had the best performance of his young career, making him the highlight of the series. Ciocco gave up two runs, but struck out nine batters in just six innings, a career-high for him.

“I thought our relievers did a better job than our starters. You really encourage what Jeff Ciocco did in game one [Saturday], went out there and did a great job,” Pawlowski said.

After falling behind 9-0, WKU finally got on the board in the sixth inning, as Chris Rogers grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored Colie Currie. The Hilltoppers then exploded for four runs in the eighth inning, including a two-RBI double from Grayson Ivey.

Rice scored another run in the top of the ninth as Dominic DiCaprio hit a sacrifice fly to score Charlie Warren, pushing the lead to five, and out of the Hilltoppers’ reach. Rice went on to win 10-5.

Game three turned out to be game two of a Saturday doubleheader, and unfortunately for WKU, it wasn’t much different from game one.

Rice exploded again in the first inning of game three, as they scored three runs,  including a two-RBI double from Tristan Gray.

They scored another run in the second when Ryan Chandler hit a sacrifice fly to left field. But this time the Hilltoppers answered back a little more quickly, as they scored two runs in the bottom of the second, headlined by an RBI triple from Tyler Robertson.

Rice’s offense continued to overwhelm the WKU pitchers, as Ryan Chandler homered to right-center field to score three more for Rice, giving the Owls a 7-2 lead. That caused WKU starter Paul Kirkpatrick to be pulled, and Kevin Elder came on in relief. Even after a pitching change, Rice poured it on, scoring three in the fifth and in the ninth, including a two-run home run from Andrew Dunlap. After all was said and done, Rice won game three 13-2 to sweep the series.

WKU will travel to Austin Peay to play a weekday game on Tuesday before traveling to Louisiana Tech to play a three-game series this weekend. 

Reporter Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 859-760-0198 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.