Hilltoppers lose first game of series to Central Michigan in close finish


Tucker Covey

Centerfielder Ty Crittenberger gets an out against Western Illinois on Friday, Feb. 18. WKU won 6-4.

Camden Bush, Baseball Reporter

WKU narrowly lost 6-4 on a freezing Friday afternoon at Nick Denes Field in the first of a four-game series.

“We didn’t play one of our cleanest games,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said. “We mishandled the ball, and you give a good team — and Central Michigan’s very good team — you give them more than three outs in an inning, it makes it tough and they took advantage of a couple of our mistakes today. We just weren’t able to overcome some of that today.”

WKU redshirt junior Jake Kates went only 3.2 innings, allowing four runs, only one of which was earned. Kates allowed four hits but struck out nine. Central Michigan senior Jordan Patty had a nice bounceback start going four innings, allowing two runs on five hits. This comes after a start where he allowed nine earned runs in only 3.1 innings of work.

Senior Mario Camalletti and sophomore Jakob Marsee helped lead the Chippewas to victory. Cammaletti reached base three times, while Marsee knocked in two runs. Freshman Ty Batusich and junior Matthew Meyer led the way for the Hilltoppers. Batusich recorded three hits including a home run and Meyer recorded two doubles.

“I changed [my] approach a little bit to try to work the ball to left field, but hunting fastballs is the main approach all the time,” Batusich said. 

Kates started the game off strong, striking out junior Justin Simpson. He walked Camilletti in the next at bat, then allowed an RBI double to left field by Marsee giving the Chippewas an early 1-0 lead. Kates struck out the next two batters to end the top of the first. Patty sat down the Hilltoppers in order to end the inning.

Kates opened up the second inning with a walk. In the next at bat, sophomore Danny Wuestenfeld launched a ball to deep left field that fell out of senior Justin Carlin’s glove for a two-base error. Kates struck out the next three batters, stranding two in scoring position and giving him six strikeouts through two innings.

Batusich opened up the bottom of the second with a single before Carlin hit a line-drive double. Junior Tristin Garcia then flew out to right field, Batusich tried to tag up and score on the play but was thrown out at the plate. Meyer followed that up with a two-out RBI double to tie the game at one. Patty retired the next batter to end the second.

Camilletti began the third inning with a single and the following batter reached on an error. Kates sat down the next three batters to end the inning and struck out two, giving him an absurd eight strikeouts through three innings. Crittenberger drew a walk with one out in the inning but that was all the Hilltoppers mustered in the third. 

Wuestenfeld singled before Kates walked the next batter and retired the next two to begin the fourth inning. The Chippewas scored two runs on Carlin’s second error of the day, making it 3-1. They extended their lead on a triple with another ball off Carlin’s glove. Senior Aristotle Peter relieved Kates with two outs and retired the first batter he faced, ending the frame. 

Batusich led off the bottom of the inning with an opposite field home run to left field making it 4-2. Later in the inning, Garcia singled and stole second base. Meyer followed Garcia with a walk, but Patty kept both from scoring.

Peter recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fifth, striking out two Chippewa batters. Central Michigan brought out sophomore reliever Ryan Insco to pitch the bottom of the fifth. Insco allowed one hit but nothing else, keeping the Central Michigan lead at two.

Peter returned to the mound for the Hilltoppers in the sixth and kept the deficit at two. Carlin reached first to start the bottom of the inning on an error by Insco. Meyer followed up with an RBI double down the left field line making the score 4-3. Senior Jake Jones replaced Insco with two outs in the inning. Jones retired the first batter he faced to end the inning.

The first two batters of the seventh went down via strikeout by Peter before sophomore Colton Coca singled. Peter forced a flyout to end the inning, leaving Coca stranded. Jones returned to the mound in the bottom of the inning and sat down the first two Hilltoppers he faced before walking junior Jackson Gray. Batusich followed the walk with an RBI double, tying the game 4-4. 

Wuestenfeld singled to lead off the eighth, prompting WKU to replace Peter with junior Mason Vinyard. Freshman Robby Morgan welcomed Vinyard to the game with a single on the first pitch. 

Vinyard struck out the next batter before walking two batters to load the bases. Camilletti was hit in the next at bat, giving the Chippewas a 5-4 lead. Vinyard struck out the next two to end the inning.

Garcia reached on an error to start the bottom of the eighth before Meyer was hit in the head, putting runners on first and second for sophomore pinch hitter Eric Riffe. Riffe struck out trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Sophomore Andrew Delaney grounded into an inning ending double play.

Vinyard was replaced in the top of the ninth after hitting and walking his first two batters. Redshirt sophomore reliever Bill Duby retired the first two batters he faced before allowing an RBI single to left field to junior Garrett Navarra, giving the Chippewas a 6-4 lead. Duby retired the next batter, keeping the deficit at two.

Jones came back out for the ninth and sat down the Hilltoppers in order to give Central Michigan a 6-4 victory.

“We’ve got to get ready, we have a doubleheader tomorrow,” Pawlowski said. “So a long day tomorrow, [we need] to get to bed early, get some rest and be ready to battle tomorrow.”

Next up, the Hilltoppers will continue their series against Central Michigan in a seven-inning doubleheader on Saturday at noon at Nick Denes Field. 

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