No. 16 Rice sweeps Hilltoppers in crucial conference series

WKU second baseman Leiff Clarkson throws to first base to retire a Southern Miss batter during the game Friday, April 10, 2015, at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green, Ky. Nick Wagner/HERALD

John Reecer

The WKU baseball team (21-20) dropped all three of their games this past weekend against nationally ranked conference rival Rice University (29-16) at Nick Denes Field.   

The Owls took the first two games of the series in a double-header on Friday by scores of 11-4 and 3-2. 

Rice then completed their sweep of the Hilltoppers with another 3-2 victory on Sunday afternoon.

The three losses now put WKU’s home record at 10-11 on the season. 

“It’s disappointing how we have been performing at home and how we haven’t been able to put together what we do on the road and bring it back here,” redshirt-sophomore second baseman Leiff Clarkson said. “We just haven’t gotten timely hits or play defense and pitch well enough to win.”

The Owls shut down the normally potent Hilltopper offense in the first two games of the series. 

Rice earned 27 strikeouts in the two games while giving up only six runs. The Owls didn’t just play good defense either. They racked up 24 hits and earned a .348 batting average collectively in the double-header. 

“It’s frustrating to see how well we played for the past two weeks and we come home and play the same way as our past home losses,” Head Coach Matt Myers said. “We just aren’t good enough at home right now.” 

Despite the two losses on Friday, senior first baseman Ryan Church continued his hot streak at the plate as he earned three hits, two doubles and a RBI to lead the otherwise tamed Hilltopper offense. 

The second game of the double header featured a career performance from WKU senior pitcher Brennan Pearson.

Pearson pitched a career-high 5.2 scoreless innings and earned a career-best six strikeouts out of the bullpen. 

“That’s our job as the bullpen to pitch scoreless innings while we are behind,” Pearson said. “We have been putting things nicely, but we have not been able to capitalize, which was seen tonight with our lack of timely hitting.” 

Sunday’s matchup featured a competitive contest between the two teams, but Rice prevailed for the series sweep with a one-run victory.   

Despite the loss, WKU saw a great performance from the bullpen. Five Hilltopper pitchers combined to give up just three runs on six hits. 

“Our bullpen was fantastic this weekend as a whole,” Myers said. “That was a team that came in hitting over .300, and we did a heck of a job with them.”

Even with the strong pitching, the Hilltoppers could not gain the advantage on the Owls as WKU left the tying run in scoring position four times over the final four innings. 

“The guys are disappointed and they should be,” Myers said. “They know that we are playing ourselves out of the conference tournament. We have three weeks to go, and I feel like if we can go 6-3, which is a tall order consider who we have to face. We will be in the tournament.”

Up next for WKU will be a home-and-home midweek series against Austin Peay University. The Hilltoppers will host the Governors at Nick Denes Field Tuesday night at 6 p.m.