WKU sees positives in 4-3 loss to 19th-ranked Kentucky

Lipscomb pitcher Dayton Tripp (4) pitches to junior WKU outfielder Colie Currie (3) during the Hilltoppers’ 10-4 loss to LU on Tuesday Feb. 28, 2017 at Nick Denes Field. Brendan O’Hern/HERALD

Tyler Mansfield

After suffering a 17-2 defeat to Kentucky back on March 1 in Lexington, the WKU baseball team looked to come out on the winning side of things in the two team’s second meeting of the season on Tuesday evening at Bowling Green Ballpark. 

It would be much closer than 15 runs, but behind a strong offensive performance, the 19th-ranked Wildcats were able to sweep the season series with the Hilltoppers, taking a 4-3 victory. It marked the first time WKU had lost to Kentucky at BG Ballpark, as it entered Tuesday with a 4-0 all-time record in Downtown BG. 

“What we talked about after the game is how hard our guys played,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said. “Everyone’s disappointed that we didn’t win the game, but I told them the one we can take for them is that ingredient of how hard you have to play and compete. If you do that, you have the chance to play and compete with anyone on our schedule.” 

Starting right handed pitcher Jeff Ciocco struggled to find a rhythm on the mound for WKU, giving up 6 hits and four runs while also committing 4 errors in four innings. Righty Devon Loomis put together a strong outing in relief, striking out three UK batters while giving up just one hit in two innings. 

On the opposite side of the ball, catcher Hunter Wood went 2-for-4 on the day, powered by a two-run RBI single in the fourth inning that bring WKU within two at 4-2. Designated hitter Kaleb Duckworth also effectively contributed, going 2-for-5 with a big double in the fifth. 

Kentucky outhit the Toppers, 9-8, on the day and had an overall hitting percentage of .265 (9-of-34) while Western had a mark of .242 (8-of-33). 

“Kentucky’s an outstanding program,” Pawlowski noted. “They deserved to win. Give them credit. But I really liked the way our guys competed today – I thought they did a great job.” 

Duckworth recorded the game’s first hit with a single into centerfield in the bottom of the first inning. Right fielder Thomas Peter would reach base after being hit by a pitch by Wildcat starter Zack Thompson, but a Steven Kraft lineout to second base also resulted in Duckworth being tagged up, ending WKU’s threat. 

Kentucky got its first hit on third baseman Luke Becker’s right field single that leadoff the second, but he would be caught trying to steal second soon after. DH Kole Cottam’s RBI single into left field scored second baseman Riley Mahan, who reached on a walk, and put the Wildcats on the board early. 

UK increased its lead to 3-0 on centerfielder Marcus Carson’s two-run homerun with one out in the inning. His second blast of the year forced the Toppers to have to play from behind with their deficit continuing to grow. 

Troy Squires got a hold of a Ciocco fastball with one out in the top of the fourth and plated Mahan before being thrown out trying to reach second. The run put Kentucky up 4-0. 

“Being down 4-0 against a Power 5 conference team is always a challenge,” Pawlowski added. “But if our guys stay with their plan and their approach, they have the chance to be successful. They battled.” 

Trailing by that score in the bottom half of the same inning, Wood hit a single up the middle to send both Kraft and Peter home and help cut WKU’s deficit to just two at 4-2 entering the fifth. 

Loomis replaced Ciocco in the fifth inning and threw two scoreless frames in relief. On 36 total pitches, Loomis gave up just a single hit while striking out three in the process. 

On the offensive side in the inning, Duckworth doubled with two outs in the bottom half and second baseman Tyler Robertson was walked, putting WKU in good position to make a comeback. That threat would end with Peter’s strikeout, which also moved the contest into the sixth. 

“Last game against (Kentucky), we only had one hit, so everyone’s working on getting our foot down and hitting the fastball,” Duckworth said. 

Trailing 4-2 with no outs in the bottom of the eighth, Peter hit a single and then advanced to second on an error by Kentucky pitcher Chris Machamer. A batter later, Kraft did quite what his predecessor did, recording an RBI single to plate Peter and help cut WKU’s deficit to 4-3. 

The Hilltoppers wouldn’t get any closer, falling short by a single run. 

WKU now travels to Murfreesboro, Tennessee for a three-game series at Middle Tennessee, beginning Friday evening at 6 p.m. 

“I really think we played one of our best games tonight, honestly,” Duckworth added. You can’t win every time you play your good games, but like Coach (Pawlowski) said, if we play like that this weekend, we’ll be fine.”