Vanderbilt defeats Hilltoppers in mid-week matchup

Senior pitcher Austin King (18) pitches in a doubleheader against Florida International at Nick Denes Field Friday, April 29. WKU lost 8-7 after leading early. Matt Lunsford/HERALD

Sam Porter


On Tuesday night, the WKU baseball team traveled to Nashville to take on nationally fifth-ranked Vanderbilt University in its nonconference season finale.

After defeating the University of Georgia, the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky, the Hilltoppers looked to sweep their Southeastern Conference opponents on the year.

However, the Commodores proved too tough. After scoring the game’s opening run, the Toppers gave up six unanswered runs as Vanderbilt cruised to a 6-1 victory.

The Toppers took no time getting on the board early. After Vanderbilt’s Matt McGarry walked two straight batters, redshirt sophomore first baseman Harrison Scanlon delivered the game’s first big play from the plate.

The Louisville native ripped a single up the middle of the field to score redshirt junior infielder Leiff Clarkson to give WKU a 1-0 lead after the first inning.

However, the Commodores answered with a big third inning. With two men on base, Vanderbilt’s Julian Infante ripped a two-run RBI triple to give the Commodores a 2-1 lead.

Soon after, Walker Grisanti scored Infante on an RBI single to stretch the lead to 3-1 after three innings. Junior pitcher Cody Coll didn’t allow another Vanderbilt the rest of his time on the mound.

The Naperville, Illinois, native pitched a career-high 6 2/3 innings and struck out four batters while giving up three runs.

“He did a great job of keeping his composure after that third inning,” Head Coach John Pawlowski said in a postgame radio show. “One of the things he has really worked on is commanding all three pitches. I thought he commanded all three of them tonight. He gave us a chance.”

Still behind 3-1 in the top of the eighth, senior infielder Danny Hudzina looked to get the Hilltoppers going from the plate.

The nation’s leader in hits ripped a single through the right side to start off the inning. The hit also made it the 50th straight game, dating back to last season, that Hudzina has reached base safely.

However, Vanderbilt’s Matt Ruppenthal struck out three straight Hilltoppers to end the inning.

“Offensively, we didn’t have too many chances tonight,” Pawlowski continued. “We had a great opportunity in the first inning that we took advantage of, but that was it. They pitched extremely well tonight. They have a great bullpen with great arms, and it showed.”

The Commodores began to pull away in the bottom of the eighth. Infante doubled down the left field line to score Bryan Reynolds to make the score 4-1.

Soon after, a Hilltopper error at home plate allowed two runs to score to make the score 6-1 after eight innings.

“I thought the two innings that they scored we really helped them,” Pawlowski said. “In the third inning, we had a lead off walk and a hit by pitch. In the eighth inning, we had a critical ball that we couldn’t handle in the infield. We gave up some extra bases. Against a team like that, you can’t do that and expect to win.”

Vanderbilt’s Ben Bowden pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to end the game and gave the Commodores a 6-1 victory.

The loss drops the Hilltoppers to 24-21 (10-11 C-USA) and improves the Commodores to 35-10 overall on the year (13-8 SEC).

WKU travels to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, this weekend for a three-game Conference USA series against Southern Mississippi, who is currently No. 1 in the conference.

“The grind continues,” Pawlowski said. “It was a tough weekend last weekend and another tough one today. Our team has been through a lot this year, and it’s time to see where we’re at as we get closer to the Conference USA tournament.”