Kraft and Elder lead Tops to series sweep

Sam Porter

The WKU baseball team hosted the University of Texas, San Antonio in a three-game Conference USA clash last weekend. 

Entering the series with a 6-9 C-USA record, the Hilltoppers looked to get to .500 as it hosted UTSA.

Thanks to huge performances by sophomore infielder Steven Kraft and redshirt junior pitcher Kevin Elder, the Hilltoppers swept the Roadrunners by scores of 7-5, 14-10 and 8-5.

“This was big time for our confidence,” Elder said about the sweep. “Last weekend was a rough weekend. We knew we had to have a good weekend to build momentum and get back .500 in conference play.” 

In the opening matchup, Kraft made it known early that he planned to have a great weekend. 

With two outs in the bottom of the first, Kraft singled to right center to score junior infielder Leiff Clarkson for the game’s opening run. After a wild pitch allowed Kraft to move to second base, redshirt sophomore Harrison Scanlon singled to score Kraft to give the Hilltoppers a 2-0 lead after just one inning.

After the two teams traded runs, Kraft struck again in the bottom of the fifth. With senior infielder Danny Hudzina on first base, Kraft hit a home run to left center to extend WKU’s lead to four runs.

Soon after, junior catcher Hunter Wood singled down the right field to score junior outfielder Paul Murray to give the Hilltoppers a 6-1 lead after five innings. With a five-run lead, Kraft struck one last time. The Virginia native singled to score sophomore outfielder Kaleb Duckworth to give the Hilltoppers a comfortable 7-1 lead.

“Growing up, my dad and I were very passionate about the game of baseball,” Kraft said after the game. “Every day we would practice hitting outside for hours — probably about 100 swings a day. I did it my whole life, and it’s helped me so much here.”

However, the Roadrunners battled back with four unanswered runs in the eighth and ninth innings.

With two outs UTSA’s Mason George faced junior pitcher Kevin Elder looking to win the game. However, George flied out to left field as the Hilltoppers held on to a 7-5 victory.

Senior pitcher Austin King gave up just five hits and three runs in seven innings and gave up five hits to get the win, improving to 3-3 on the year.

In the second matchup, both teams had strong days from the plate. The two teams combined for 24 runs on 30 hits.

After the teams brought in two runs a piece in the opening two innings, the Hilltoppers began to build a cushion. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, Duckworth doubled to right centerfield to score three Hilltoppers.

“[Duckworth] was so fired up,” Head Coach John Pawlowski said of the three-run double. “He’s been working so hard. That was a big opportunity with the bases loaded, and he took advantage of it.”

Hudzina then hit a home run to left center to score himself and Duckworth, giving the Hilltoppers a 9-4 lead after just three innings.

Down by five in the top of the seventh, UTSA’s Ben Brookover hit a two-run home run to left field to pull the Roadrunners within three points.

Soon after, Janes grounded out to third base but brought home Wood to give the Hilltoppers a 14-10 lead.

Finally, redshirt junior pitcher Kevin Elder pitched a 1-2-3 inning to give the Hilltoppers the victory and clinch the series.

In the series finale, the Hilltoppers picked up right where they left off in game two. as they started the game with a 6-1 lead.

Once again, the Roadrunners stormed back. UTSA’s J.T. Gilmore’s two RBI singles highlighted a four-run inning that cut the Hilltoppers’ lead to one.

Needing a spark, Duckworth struck again from the plate.

With the bases loaded, the Henderson County High School product doubled down the left field line to score Clarkson and Janes to give the Hilltoppers a 8-5 lead after six innings.

Once again, Elder came in to finish it off. The Hampshire, Illinois, native kept the Roadrunners scoreless in the final 4.1 innings to give WKU an 8-5 victory and the sweep.

“For Elder to step up and play Friday, Saturday and Sunday was huge,” Pawlowski said. “He wanted to be out there, and we needed him because both teams were swinging the ball so well. He silenced their bats.”

The sweep improves WKU to 22-18 (9-9 C-USA). The Hilltoppers travel to Nashville Tuesday to take on Lipscomb. 

“This league is such a roller coaster ride,” Pawlowski said. “We’ve been swept a couple times, and we’ve swept a couple teams. When you have an opportunity to put some wins on your resume, you have to take advantage of it, and that’s what we did this weekend.”