Coach Pawlowski talks Marshall sweep, momentum and upcoming FAU series in midweek interview

WKU+baseball+players+joke+while+in+the+dugout+at+Nick+Denes+Field+on+Feb.+16%2C+2020.+WKU+beat+Valparaiso+6-2.

Credit: WKU Athletics

WKU baseball players joke while in the dugout at Nick Denes Field on Feb. 16, 2020. WKU beat Valparaiso 6-2.

Wyatt Sparkman, Baseball Reporter

WKU’s baseball program (23-21), (13-11, C-USA) is coming off an eight-game road stretch against Southern Mississippi University and Marshall where the Hilltoppers won five of eight contests. 

“When you’re talking about eight games, these four-game weekends are challenging for everybody,” head coach John Pawlowski said in a midweek interview on Wednesday. “But overall, you play eight games, we win five of them, that’s a successful two weekends. Southern Miss, a very good club, very challenging, it’s great to win that game on Sunday.”

WKU lost the first three games of the four-game series against Southern Miss with two of those losses coming by just one run. In the series finale, WKU was losing 3-2 before a five-run sixth inning propelled the team to a 9-4 victory.  

“It seemed that at Southern Miss they had tailgaters out there and they had a good crowd so obviously that was something new for our team,” Pawlowski said, addressing the large crowds his team played in front of during its series in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. “I thought they handled [it] very well … I think it was very helpful for us to play in that environment, hopefully that will help us down the road.” 

WKU swept Marshall in four games for the second time this season during the back half of the road trip. In three of those four games, WKU compiled 10 or more hits. The Hilltoppers scored 41 runs throughout the weekend.

“I think [for] our group, hitting is very contagious… one guy comes up with a base hit and then another guy, hitting is contagious. I felt like this past weekend our group was as confident as they’ve been all year,” Pawlowski said. “I just liked the way they went about their work.”

WKU was behind by a score of 6-2 in the series finale against Marshall heading into the top of the ninth inning. After a bases loaded walk set the score at 6-3, sophomore Jackson Swiney hit a grand slam to give WKU a 7-6 lead and help the team clinch the series sweep. 

“It was unbelievable,” Pawlowski said about Swiney’s grand slam. “You know those moments happen and you’re never really prepared for how it’s going to look or how it’s going to feel.”

“We were looking for something big, a big moment, a big swing, something big could possibly happen,” Pawlowski said. “Jackson [Swiney] comes up and he’s behind in the count 0-2, runs into a ball and [the] ball carries out, it couldn’t have been more perfect for us.”

Swiney came into the game with a .241 batting average. The sophomore had only one home run to his name on the season before stepping up to bat in his sole plate appearance of the matchup.

“He was so relieved, he felt really good and it’s great to see that especially for a guy that hadn’t had the success he’s wanted or was hoping for yet,” Pawlowski said. “But then to step into that moment and hit a ball like he did was pretty special.”

Pawlowski’s squad will return home to Nick Denes Field on May 7-9 for a four-game series against the Florida Atlantic Owls (24-20), (13-11, C-USA). The Owls and Hilltoppers are currently tied for third in the East Division of Conference USA.

FAU is currently slashing .269/.377/.445 as a unit. The Owls currently rank 14th in the nation and second in C-USA in home runs with 57. However, FAU’s pitching staff has given up 52 home runs, the most in the conference.

“These players don’t need me to tell them what they’re playing for, they understand what we need to do. We just [have] to go out and perform,” Pawlowski said when talking about his team’s upcoming series. “It’ll be exciting, FAU is a very good team year in and year out, picked to finish first or second every year in the conference. It’ll be a challenging weekend.”

“Lots to play for.”

 

Baseball beat reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected]