Baseball hits early-season revival

John Reecer is the sports editor of the College Heights Herald during the spring 2016 semester.

John Reecer

Spring is a season of new beginnings and fresh starts as warmer weather gives way to blossoming flowers and new life.

With the 2016 season underway, the WKU baseball team (11-5) is in a new beginning of its own with first-year Head Coach John Pawlowski at the helm, and what a fresh start it has been for the squad.

The Hilltoppers opened the season with a 7-1 record in their first eight games, the best start for the program since the 1985 season.

Even more impressive is the Hilltoppers’ record over the Southeastern Conference. The Tops are currently 3-0 on the year against the SEC with wins over the University of Georgia, the University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky.

If not for a series sweep at the hands of Jacksonville State, in which WKU lost three games by a combined four runs, the Hilltoppers’ record would be even more impressive.

So after last year’s losing season, which featured a second-to-last place finish in Conference USA, what has led to this sudden change?

While a head coaching change may take most of the credit, the real reason for the Hilltoppers’ quick turnaround has been their vast improvement on the pitching mound.

Last season, WKU fielded a pitiful 4.75 team ERA compared to a much-improved 3.60 team ERA through their first 16 games this year. The Topper pitching staff currently holds the fourth-best team ERA in C-USA.

The performance of senior pitcher Austin King has been one of the biggest reasons for the Hilltoppers’ improved play at the position. He leads the team with a 3.18 ERA and is second on the team with 19 strikeouts in four starts.

Redshirt junior pitcher Jackson has finished the Hilltoppers’ games well. The Bowling Green native has been the strongest player from the bullpen so far as he currently fields a 0.79 team ERA in seven different appearances.

Defense hasn’t been WKU’s only strong suit so far this season, as the Tops have put together a very impressive season from the plate. At press time, the team is currently second in C-USA in runs scored with 108 and third in the conference in hits with 169.

Senior third baseman Danny Hudzina leads the Hilltopper offensive attack as he currently has an incredible .471 batting average which is the fifth best average in Division I baseball. Hudzina also is tied for the lead nationally in hits with 33 through 16 games.

What is truly mind-blowing, however, is the fact that Hudzina may not even be the team’s best power hitter this season.

Sophomore outfielder Kaleb Duckworth has the team lead in home runs with three and is second on the team in RBIs with 17. He isn’t too far behind Hudzina in batting average as Duckworth bats .413 at the plate.

While some may think that WKU’s impressive offensive and defensive statistics are due to a soft early season schedule, this just isn’t the case. The Tops have defeated the previously mentioned SEC teams and the University of Cincinnati.

These numbers are likely to decrease as more games are played and the season goes on. However, it is to be determined if the Hilltoppers can keep their record this respectable as they start conference play in the challenging C-USA schedule.

If the team can continue to show improvement on the mound and if Hudzina and Duckworth keep leading the Hilltoppers strongly at the plate, there is a great chance that Pawlowski’s baseball revival can turn into a deep run in the C-USA tournament.