Pratt: Marquee wins should now be expected for WKU baseball

WKU sophomore outfielder Trevor Lowe safely slides into home plate as Southern Illinois freshman catcher Nick Rybarczyk fails to tag him out during the second inning of the second game at Nick Denes field on Sunday, Feb. 16. (Tyler Essary/HERALD)

Elliott Pratt

WKU baseball is earning a reputation for playing extremely well against top-ranked opponents. WKU has yet to win by a dominating margin, but it doesn’t matter as long as you come out of nine innings with at least one more run than the opposition.

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think that same story would be told again when WKU travelled down to No. 4 Vanderbilt.

I mean this is Vanderbilt.

This is a team that, last season, had one of its best years in recent history. The Commodores finished the regular season 54-12 and 26-3 in Southeastern Conference play. They advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals and returned 10 pitchers and only lost one of them.

It’s one thing to beat a top 25 team like WKU has done, but Vanderbilt may arguably be the best in the country.

But here I am, writing this very column because WKU proved me wrong.

If there’s one thing that this team is going to teach us all year it’s to never count them out of anything. Whether it’s coming back from two runs down in the eighth inning to rally off five runs to win it or waiting around for 18 innings like last season against Kentucky (ranked No. 24 at the time) only to have Trevor Lowe hit a homer to win in the early morning hours, this team will get a job done.

Matt Myers finally has a complete team. The lineup can hit anything no matter where at in the order. The pitching staff doesn’t have just one pitcher that you look forward to watching on the weekends – the staff has many arms to be excited about for every game.

I was surprised, but Matt Myers wasn’t.

“I knew this team was capable of doing it,” Myers said after the game. “It’s one game and there’s more down the road, but to justify the things we’ve worked on and the type of team we have the chance to be. Every win is good to get, but let’s expect it because I think we’re good enough to do that.

“I think we’re good enough every year we talk at the beginning of the season, I always want teams to get off to a good start because then they buy in,” he continued. “There are results from the process and they’re starting to get it. But this team — they hate letting each other down, they’re really close, they have a lot of fun and I just think that carries over.”

It was only fitting for Josh Bartley to get the win. Before Tuesday night, the hometown kid had been nothing but clutch when he’s played top ranked teams. So we all should have known going into the game that when Bartley was set to start for WKU, something special was going to happen.

“It was surprising,” Bartley said. “I’m the hometown kid and it’s always been a dream to come play for Western and being able to pitch against teams in the top 10 and be lucky and fortunate enough to get the win against them is always exciting.”

Again, I was surprised. So was Bartley.

But now that part is over.

It’s come to a point now where WKU isn’t going to be an overwhelming underdog any time they go up against a big-name ball club.

Conference affiliation doesn’t matter. Take Louisiana-Lafayette, who on the same night defeated No. 1 LSU 4-1 in six innings due to a rain delay before the game was called. LSU may very well have come back to win, but we’ll never know.

What ULL did and what WKU has done is prove no dog is too small to break the chain. It’s come to a point now where nothing is out of the question with this team moving forward.

“It gives us loads of confidence, but a win like this just boosts it even more,” Bartley said. “We want to stay grounded because we want to expect those wins. A win against Vanderbilt and others in the top 10, a win against those really mean a lot.”