Top-ranked Rice up next for WKU in crucial conference series

WKU sophomore Kevin Elder fires a pitch in this multiple exposure during Saturday’s game against Southern Miss at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green. Elder pitched the final 3.2 innings to record his second save of the season. Nick Wagner/HERALD

John Reecer

The Hilltoppers (20-17) will take on the Rice University Owls (26-16) in a weekend conference series starting on Friday at 6 p.m. at Nick Denes Field. 

The Owls are currently third in the conference standings with a 14-7 record in league play and are also ranked 17 overall in the nation in the USA Today Coaches Poll. 

“It’s an exciting week,” Head Coach Matt Myers said. “This is maybe the biggest week in for a season since I have been here on the Hill, and I’ve been here for eight years.”

This week is extremely important for the Hilltoppers. They only have three more conference series left in the season after this weekend.  

Currently, WKU is in eighth place in the conference standings with an even league record of 9-9. With only four more conference series left, the Hilltoppers must start making their case for a berth in a Super Regional this weekend. 

“You have got to be excited as a competitor, this week, to have this opportunity,” Coach Myers said. “It’s going to require every single one of us to get the job done.” 

The Hilltoppers will face a Rice team that is sound in all areas of the game. The Owls currently have eight players batting over .296 along with a combined team ERA of 3.52. 

Two players WKU must contain in the series are Rice senior catcher John Clay Reeves and junior pitcher Austin Orewiler. 

Reeves is one of the conference’s top hitters as the catcher currently fields a .347 batting average along with a team high seven home runs and a Conference-USA leading 45 RBI’s. On the mound, Orewiler is 5-0 on the season with a 2.37 ERA and 49 strikeouts. 

However, the Owls will have their hands full with the Hilltoppers as junior outfielder Anderson Miller and sophomore second baseman Leiff Clarkson are playing some of the best baseball of their careers. 

Recently named the C-USA Hitter of the Week, Miller proved to be a significant reason behind WKU’s four-win week as he batted 7-for-17 (.412) with nine RBI, four walks, three home runs, a stolen base and six runs scored. He also slugged 1.000 and reached base 11 times. 

A consistent force all season for WKU, Clarkson currently fields a season batting average of .336, good for fourteenth in the entire conference. Like Miller, the sophomore knows how to get on base as well as he currently has an on-base-percentage of .375. 

“It’s an exciting week,” Coach Myers said. “But, we aren’t going to play any different. We are going to try and play the way we have been playing. We had a great week last week, so I want to try and be consistent with that.”