Hilltoppers swept in critical C-USA series

Junior right hand pitcher Cody Coll pitches during the Hilltoppers 3-2 win over Belmont University on Tuesday April 19, 2016 at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green, Ky. Coll faced 17 batters with 4 strikeouts. Shaban Athuman/HERALD

Sam Porter

The WKU baseball team hosted Marshall University in a critical Conference USA series this weekend.

The Hilltoppers entered the series with a 10-14 C-USA record, placing them eighth in the conference. Since only the top eight teams qualify for postseason play, the Hilltoppers needed one or two wins to keep their spot in the top eight.

However, the Thundering Herd swept the Hilltoppers by scores of 8-1, 14-1, and 5-2 to win their ninth-straight game as they dropped the Hilltoppers’ conference record to 10-17 and ninth in C-USA.

In the opening matchup, the Herd proved early why they were the number one home-run hitting team in the conference.

Marshall’s DJ Gee hit a solo home run off senior pitcher Ryan Thurston to give the Herd a 1-0 lead after one inning. Thurston rebounded by striking out six batters and keeping the Herd off the board until the fourth inning when Marshall struck again.

With two men on base, Leo Valenti homered to left field to push the Thundering Herd lead to 4-0. Hoping to stop the momentum, head coach John Pawlowski brought in junior pitcher Sam Higgs to pitch. However, the Herd continued to dominate from the plate. Marshall’s Tyler Ratliff hit a solo home run to left center field to give Marshall a 5-0 lead after five innings.

“They did a great job hitting the ball,” Pawlowski said. “They put some big swings on it and got up early on us. Our pitching has to be better in executing against a team like Marshall.”

Trailing 6-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Hilltoppers finally got on the board. Redshirt junior infielder Leiff Clarkson singled to right field to score junior outfielder Paul Murray to cut the lead to 6-1.

However, that’s all the Hilltoppers were able to get as Clarkson and freshman shortstop Steven DiPuglia were left on base.

“We had nearly twenty base runners today and unfortunately we weren’t able to do anything with it,” Pawlowski said. “When you get that many base runners we should be able to score. All of our base hits were singles. That was the difference. They were strong and physical and got doubles and home runs where all ours were singles.”

Marshall added two more runs in the eighth inning and cruised to an 8-1 victory. Chase Boster got the victory to improve to 6-2 on the year as Thurston dropped to 3-5.

The second matchup began similar to the first. With the bases loaded, Ratliff homered to left field to give the Herd a 4-0 lead after one inning.

After the Hilltoppers went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first, Valenti and Gee each hit a solo home run in the top of the second. Just like that, Marshall had a 6-0 lead after just two innings.

“They swung the bats really well in those first two games,” Pawlowski said. “Our game plan was to make sure we executed pitches and we didn’t do it. They took some big swings and didn’t get cheated.”

The Herd continued the top of the fourth. Gee’s two-run RBI double to center field highlighted a three run inning that extended the lead to 9-0.

The Hilltoppers finally got on the board in the bottom of the fourth. Sophomore infielder Steven Kraft grounded out but allowed sophomore outfielder Kaleb Duckworth to score to cut the lead to 9-1.

However, that would be the only run the Hilltoppers brought across as Marshall scored the game’s last five runs and cruised to a 14-1 victory to clinch the series.

In the final matchup, seniors Danny Hudzina, Josh Bartley, Austin King, Ty Downing, and John Harman celebrated senior day as the five played their last game at Nick Denes Field.

Bartley got the start and held his own early on. After giving up an early run, the senior pitcher kept the Herd scoreless until the fifth inning when Marshall began to build a cushion.

Marshall’s Tommy Lane’s two-run RBI double gave the Herd a 3-0 lead after the top of the fifth. Finally, Hudzina put the Hilltoppers on the board in his final game at home.

The senior infielder singled to right field to score Zach Janes to cut the lead to 3-1 after five innings. Howver, that would be the only positive moment of the day as the Herd scored two out of the final three runs to hold on to a 5-2 victory and sweep the Hilltoppers.

The sweep drops the Hilltoppers to a tie with University of Alabama Birmingham for ninth-place in the conference.

The Hilltoppers will travel to Boca Raton, Florida to face Florida Atlantic (18-8 C-USA) for a three-game series to end the year.

The Hilltoppers will most likely need two wins against the Owls and some help to pass Charlotte for the final C-USA playoff spot.