Hilltoppers overpower Hartford in first game of series


Allie Hendricks

WKU junior pitcher Mason Vinyard celebrates after striking out the final batter during the game against Western Illinois University at Nick Denes field on Feb. 20, 2022, making the Hilltoppers win 9-6.

Camden Bush, Baseball Reporter

WKU (5-4) dominated Hartford (0-4) 11-2 Friday afternoon at Nick Denes Field. This win for WKU comes in the first of a three-game weekend set against the Hawks.

“I thought we played a really clean baseball game today,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said. “We pitched outstanding, Jake [Kates] went out there and gave us eight strong innings of work today. We handled the baseball very well, and the middle of that lineup with [Aidan] Gilroy, [Tristin] Garcia and [Ty] Batusich, they did an outstanding job offensively and that kind of set the tone.”

Junior Jake Kates recorded the win for the Hilltoppers. Kates went eight innings, allowing two runs on three hits, while striking out eight and not walking a batter. Hartford senior Tim Blaisdell went four innings, allowing six runs on six hits with three walks. 

“I was very happy,” Kates said. “Obviously, the two home runs are tough, I wish I could have both pitches back, but I thought I was in the zone all night and I gave our team a chance to win.”

The Hilltoppers tallied twelve hits on the day and were led by freshman Ty Batusich, junior Tristin Garcia and sophomore Aidan Gilroy. All three batters recorded three hits, Gilroy and Batusich also knocked in three runs. Senior Kevin Koziol and sophomore Daniel Burnett led the way for Hartford as each batter recorded a solo home run. 

“I like to get hits rather than walk, so I’m looking for strikes and good pitches to hit,” Gilroy said.

Kates retired the Hawks in order in the top of the first to get the game underway. Blaisdell started his outing on the mound with eight-straight balls, giving the Hilltoppers two baserunners in the bottom of the inning. Blaisdell hit Batusich in the next at bat before Garcia followed with a sac fly RBI to center, giving WKU a 1-0 lead. Blaisdell retired the next two batters to end the inning.

Garcia opened the second inning with a diving play for the first out. Junior Tremayne Cobb Jr. gave the Hawks their first hit of the day with a single in the next at bat. The following batter reached on an error by Kates. Kates ended the inning, forcing a 1-6-3 double play in. Blaisdell sat down the Hilltoppers in order to end the second frame.

Both teams went down in order in the third as each pitcher recorded one strikeout.

Hartford went down in order again in the top of the fourth. Garica led off the bottom of the inning with a single, giving the Hilltoppers their first hit of the day. Junior Jackson Gray launched a double off the wall in right center field.

Sophomore Andrew Delaney knocked both runners in with a single to left center, giving WKU a 3-0 lead. Later in the inning, WKU scored on a sacrifice groundout by freshman Brett Blomquist making it 4-0.

Hartford got their first run of the game in the top of the fifth on a one-out home run to right center field by Burnett, cutting the Hilltopper lead to 4-1. That was all the Hawks could muster in the inning as Kates struck out the next two. 

Junior Matthew Meyer walked and stole second to start the bottom of the fifth. Gilroy followed with a single. Batusich knocked in both runners with a single to right field in the next at bat, extending the WKU lead 6-1.

Garcia followed with another single, forcing a pitching change. Senior Robert Chaney replaced Blaisdell with no outs in the fifth. Chaney forced a line drive double play to start his day on the mound. Delaney recorded a two-out single, but the Hilltoppers didn’t manage another run in the inning. 

Kates made quick work of Hartford in the top of the sixth, recording another 1-2-3 inning. Blomquist was hit by a pitch to open the bottom of the sixth. Blomquist stole second and reached third on the throw in the next at bat. Freshman AJ Fiechter walked to put runners on the corners.

Gilroy bombed a three-run home run to right field with one out in the inning. Garcia followed with a double off the top of the wall in right center field. Gray added to the Hilltopper lead with an RBI sac fly, making it 10-1. Chaney ended the inning by forcing a flyout. 

“We’ve changed the lineup around to stack all these lefties followed by Jackson Gray, and I think that it’s made a difference with a little adjustment,” Pawlowski said. “It’s tough to sort through all four of those guys.”

The Hawks went down in order to start the seventh as Kates recorded his fifth 1-2-3 inning of the day. Sophomore Ryan Dee started the bottom of the seventh on the mound for Hartford. Dee retired the Hilltoppers in order to end the inning.

Kates returned to the mound in the eighth inning for the Hilltoppers. The Hawks scored their second run of the day on a one-out solo home run to left center by Koziol, making it 10-2. Kates struck out the next two Hawks to end the inning. 

Gilroy recorded his third hit of the day with one out in the bottom of the inning before Batusich followed with an RBI double, giving WKU a 11-2 lead. Dee retired the next two to end the inning. 

Freshman Andrew Brockwell took the mound for the Hilltoppers in the top of the ninth. Brockwell allowed a walk and double but no runs in the inning, giving WKU an 11-2 victory.

Up next, the Hilltoppers face Hartford again Saturday in a nine-inning doubleheader at Nick Denes Field starting at noon.

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