WKU loses first game of the season, Hilltoppers use eight pitchers in loss


Tucker Covey

First baseman Aiden Gilroy makes a run for second base and gets tagged out on Friday, Feb. 18. WKU won 6-4.

Camden Bush, Baseball Reporter

Western Illinois (1-1) dominated WKU (1-1) 14-7 at Nick Denes Field Saturday afternoon.

“We’re going to take some things out of [the loss], and we are going to learn from the things we didn’t do well,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said. “I think that is part of the learning curve, is to evaluate the game. There’s always things that you look back on and whether they’re negative or positive, you have to learn from that, and it’s a learning experience.”

“No doubt it’s a tough lesson, but the first half of the game, we played very well,” Pawlowski continued. “I thought we were playing very well and then in the second half the game completely changed on us. Give them credit, they played a solid game, and we just weren’t able to get anything going until late in the game offensively.”

WKU was bested by Western Illinois starting pitcher senior Jace Warkentien who went six innings allowing three runs, two earned, on three hits with six strikeouts.  

Senior Sean Bergeron went five innings, allowing three earned runs on eight hits for the Hilltoppers. He recorded four strikeouts while not walking any batters. 

Western Illinois had a balanced attack at the plate with nine starters recording at least one hit. The Leathernecks saw six players record multiple hits. 

WKU’s Jackson Gray was one of a few bright spots on the day as he launched a homerun in the first inning and reached base three times. This comes after a day where Gray struck out four times.

“It felt good,” Gray said. “Baseball is such a mental sport. I came out here yesterday and played honestly the worst game of my career. You just got to find a way. I kind of let myself be mad about it for the night, and then wake up and it’s a new day.”

Bergeron struck out Western Illinois freshman Nick Mitchell to start the game. The Leathernecks got a single by junior Derek Botaletto, but he was stranded there as Bergeron recorded his second strikeout of the inning. 

WKU sophomore Ty Crittenberger opened up the bottom of the first with a ground ball single. Gray followed him up with a two-run blast over the wall in right center field, giving WKU an early 2-0 lead. Warkentein walked freshman Ty Batusich before a double play ended the inning.

Bergeron made quick work of the Leathernecks in the second, sitting them down in order while recording his third strikeout. Warkentein returned the favor in the bottom of the inning, recording a 1-2-3 inning. 

Western Illinois senior Dillion Sears opened up the third with a double before junior Jack Sievers bunted Sears over to third the next at bat. Mitchell knocked in Sears with a sacrifice flyout to left field, cutting the WKU lead to 2-1.

Hilltopper senior Justin Carlin ended the inning and potential rally with a diving catch in left field. Warkentien made quick work of the Hilltoppers again in the bottom of the third.

Bergeron recorded two quick outs to start the fourth but allowed a two-out single to left field by junior Chase VanDerGinst. Bergeron was able to end the inning in the next at bat by recording his fourth strikeout of the game.

Warkentien retired the first two WKU batters in the bottom of the fourth, but Tristin Garcia laced a line drive off the top of the right fielder’s glove for a two-out double. Sophomore Aidan Gilroy followed up the double with an RBI single, giving the Hilltoppers a 3-1 lead. Warkentein was able to get out of the inning, allowing only one run. 

Bergeron allowed a two-out triple by Mitchell that bounced off the wall. Olsen knocked Mitchell in for with a single making it a 3-2 WKU lead. Junior Adam Juran tied the game up with an RBI single, tying the game at 3-3. Warkentein disposed of the Hilltoppers in order in the bottom of the fifth, keeping the score even.

WKU sophomore reliever Luke Stofel replaced starter Bergeron in the top of the sixth. Stofel struck out the first batter he faced. The sophomore walked senior Toby Allred, then allowed a pop up down the left field line by Sears that fell in for a double. Junior Jack Sievers bounced one over the third baseman’s head for an infield hit, giving Western Illinois a 4-3 lead. 

Mitchell laced a hard ground ball at Garcia, who misplayed the ball, resulting in another run for the Leathernecks. Olsen followed up with a sacrifice bunt before sophomore Trevor Mott came in with two outs to relieve Luke Stofel. 

Mott walked the first batter he faced and was promptly removed from the game for junior Wil Moritz. Moritz retired the first batter he faced, ending the long top of the sixth. Warkentien retired the Hilltoppers in order for the second straight inning to close out the sixth. 

Redshirt junior Aaron Shiflet came out on the mound to start the seventh inning for the Hilltoppers. Western Illinois’ freshman CJ Richmond blasted a homerun to deep right field to make the Leathernecks lead 7-3. 

VanDerGinst then layed down a bunt and Shiflet overthrew first base for an error. Allred followed this up with a single. Shiflet was replaced by Luke Sinnard before he was able to record an out.

Sievers batted in a run on a sacrifice bunt, giving Western Illinois a 8-3 lead. Mitchell followed the bunt up with an RBI single. Olsen knocked in Mitchell with a single befor Botaletto launched a two-run homerun to right field making it 12-3, giving the Leathernecks their 15th hit of the day.

Freshman Cole Heath replaced Sinnard in the seventh with two outs. Heath hit the first batter he faced. He struck out Richmond to end a long top of the seventh. Western Illinois junior Caden Kratz came in to replace Warkentien after six solid innings. Kratz walked two WKU batter but stranding them to end the seventh

Heath allowed a double off the Crittenberger’s glove to VanDerGinst to lead off the eighth. Allred laced an RBI double down the right field line extending the Western Illinois lead 13-3. Heath was removed from the game after walking Sievers. 

Sophomore Lane Diuguid entered the game with one out, becoming the eighth pitcher of the day for WKU. Mitchell knocked in the 14th run of the day for Western Illinois with a single to left field, making the score 14-3. Diuguid retired the next two batters to end the inning.

Junior Jack Bell came in to start the bottom of the eighth on the mound for the Leathernecks. Bell hit Batusich with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. With two outs in the inning, freshman pinch hitter AJ Fiechter drew a walk. 

Senior pinch hitter Brian McAuliffe hit a two-run RBI double. Junior Ricardo Leonett followed with an RBI single. McKay got hit by the next pitch prompting Western Illinois to put in a new pitcher in junior Jake Armstrong. 

Armstrong walked the first batter he faced in Crittenberger. He walked Gray in the next at bat, pushing in another run past home plate to cut the lead to 14-7. Armstrong struck out Carlin with the bases loaded to end the inning.

Diuguid came back out for the Hilltoppers to try to finish out the game in the ninth. Diuguid retired the Leathernecks in order to take the game into the bottom of the ninth. Freshman Bryan Rumping came in and retired the Hilltoppers in order to close out the game, resulting in a 14-7 Western Illinois victory. Pawlowski was pleased with how Diuguid closed out the game. 

“I know he’s worked really hard and put himself in a position to want to be successful,” Pawlowski said. “He’s just waiting for that opportunity, and I thought he did well. It’s always tough to go into a game when there’s a lot of runs, a lot of things happening and a lot of momentum on the other team, but I was proud of the way he handled it.”

Up next, the Hilltoppers take on the Leathernecks again Sunday at 1 p.m. at Nick Denes Field in the final game of a three-game series. Devyn Terbrak will be on the mound for WKU.

Baseball Reporter Camden Bush can be reached at [email protected]