Hilltoppers drop conference series to LA Tech

Left hand pitcher John Harman pitches during the Hilltoppers 3-1 loss to Louisiana Tech on Sunday April 10, 2016 at WKU Softball Complex in Bowling Green, Ky. Harman faced 4 batters and had one strikeout. Shaban Athuman/HERALD

Sam Porter

The WKU baseball team hosted Louisiana Tech University this past weekend in a three-game Conference USA series. With the Hilltoppers coming in at 5-4 in C-USA and the Bulldogs at 4-5, both teams were looking to end the weekend above .500 in conference play. After winning the first game 6-3, the Hilltoppers fell 12-9 and 3-1 in the final two games to drop the series and fall to 6-6 in C-USA play.

“It was very frustrating for our club,” Head Coach John Pawlowski said after the series. “Give Louisiana Tech credit; they pitched extremely well in that final game. With our offense, we have to be able to manufacture runs, and unfortunately we couldn’t do that in the final game.”

In the opening game, the Hilltoppers took no time getting on the board. After senior Austin King pitched a scoreless first inning, senior third basemen Danny Hudzina hit an RBI groundout to score sophomore infielder Steven Kraft for the game’s opening run.

After a scoreless second inning, Louisiana Tech pitcher Phillip Diehl walked redshirt sophomore first basemen Harrison Scanlon to allow Kraft to score his second run of the game. 

Soon after, junior outfielder Paul Murray hit a sacrifice fly to score redshirt junior Zach Janes to make the score 4-0 after just three innings. However, the Bulldogs struck back in the top of the fourth with a two-run home run to bring the Bulldogs within two. 

“Last year we kind of struggled at home,” Janes said after the game. “This year we’ve really changed that. I think we’ve developed a better winning mentality. No matter what, we always feel like we have a chance to win.”

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Bulldogs made another critical error. After junior outfielder Paul Murray hit a shot down the third base line, a wild throw to first base allowed Hudzina and Scanlon to score to extend the game to 6-2 after five innings.

Junior pitcher Sam Higgs and Louisiana Tech’s Casey Sullivan pitched scoreless innings into the top of the ninth. Redshirt junior pitcher Jackson Sowell came in to finish the Bulldogs off. After giving up one run, Sowell retired the final two Bulldogs to seal a 6-3 victory. 

“I thought Louisiana Tech did a great job of running our pitch count up,” Pawlowski said after the first game. “When the pitch count started to run up, we brought Sam Higgs in there, and he really set the tone for us. I think Higgs was the difference today.”

The second matchup started with the Bulldogs striking first early. After the Bulldogs scored the game’s opening   run,  Louisiana Tech’s Jonathan Washam hit a three-run home run to give the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead. 

However, the Hilltoppers answered with a big inning of their own. Duckworth and Scanlon both hit RBIs that scored Kraft and Hudzina. Soon after, Murray doubled to score Scanlon from second base to make the score 4-3 after the first inning, and the shootout was on. 

After senior pitcher Josh Bartley pitched a scoreless second inning, Kraft hit a home run to left field to tie the game. In the top of the third, graduate senior catcher Ty Downing singled up the middle to score Scanlon from second base to give the Hilltoppers a 5-4 lead. 

After the Bulldogs tied the game in the bottom of the fourth, the Hilltoppers tried to surge ahead. Janes and Scanlon both hit RBIs to give the Hilltoppers a 7-5 lead. Once again, the Bulldogs answered — this time with a two-run RBI single that highlighted a three-run inning and gave the Bulldogs an 8-7 lead. 

Hudzina came through in the bottom of the fifth for WKU as the nation’s co-leader in hits hit a strike down the left field line to give the Hilltoppers a 9-8 lead. 

However, Hudzina’s two-run RBI would give the Hilltoppers their last lead of the game. The Bulldogs scored four unanswered runs, and the Hilltoppers couldn’t plate any more runs through the final four innings as Louisiana Tech held on for a 12-9 victory.

The third and final matchup was the complete opposite of the second matchup as both teams struggled to plate runs early in the game. 

Junior pitcher Ryan Thurston and Louisana Tech’s Tyler Clancy and Casey Sutton kept the game scoreless until the fifth inning, when the Bulldogs struck first.

“The third game was the reverse role of the second game,” Pawlowski said after game three. “I thought we went out there and did well with our pitching. We just weren’t able to manufacture any runs. We have to be able to manufacture runs with our offense. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that in game three.”

With two outs in the final inning, Hudzina hit a shot down the left field line, making him the first Hilltopper to get past first base in the game. Duckworth singled up the middle to bring Hudzina home to make the score 3-1. However, it was too little too late as the Bulldogs held on for a 3-1 victory.

The series drops the Hilltoppers to 18-13(6-6 C-USA). The Hilltoppers will travel to Louisville Tuesday to face U of L. In the team’s first meeting at Nick Denes Field, the Cardinals dominated the Hilltoppers and won by a final score of 17-0.