WKU Baseball loses high-scoring affair with Illinois in series opener


Tucker Covey

Sophomore Hunter Evans tags a runner for an out on Friday, Feb. 18. WKU won against Western Illinois 6-4.

Camden Bush, Baseball Reporter

Illinois (4-7) defeated WKU (7-6) 12-6 Friday afternoon at Nick Denes Field. The loss for the Hilltoppers comes in the first game of a three-game set against Illinois that will be wrapped up with a doubleheader on Sunday.

“We just didn’t get out of the gates very well today,” WKU head coach John Pawlowski said. “We talk about it all the time, it starts with the pitching.” 

WKU redshirt junior Jake Kates went only two innings, allowing six runs on five hits. Illinois sophomore Cole Kirschsieper picked up the win. Kirschsieper went 6.1 innings, allowing three runs, two of which were earned, on five hits with four strikeouts.

Junior Branden Comia, junior Cam McDonald and sophomore Brody Harding led the way for the Fighting Illini offensively. The three batters combined for ten hits and eight RBIs on the day and Comia homered twice and McDonald homered once. 

The Hilltoppers were led by freshman AJ Fiechter and freshman Brett Blomquist who each had two hits. The Hilltoppers were also able to manage two pinch-hit home runs by redshirt sophomore Hunter Evans and graduate Brian McAuliffe.

“Obviously, it’s a negative when you look at the final score, but I try to pull some positive things out of there,” Pawlowski said. “Hunter Evans put a good swing on it and Brian McAuliffe had a good at bat. Those two guys that came off the bench and did a great job.”

Kates walked the first batter he faced to start the game. Comia followed with an RBI double to left center, giving Illinois an early 1-0 lead. Kates hit a batter with one out in the inning. Junior Kellen Sarver followed with an RBI single. McDonald then launched a three-run home run in the next at bat to make it 5-0. 

Kates allowed an infield single before retiring the next two to end the top of the first. Kirschsieper sat down the Hilltoppers in order to end the first.

Kates retired the first two he faced in the top of the second before allowing a solo homer to center field by sophomore Justin Janas, extending the Illini lead 6-0. Kates walked a man before retiring the next batter to end the frame. Kirschsieper retired the first two batters in the bottom of the second before allowing junior Jackson Gray to reach on an error. Gray was thrown out on a steal attempt to end the second.

Sophomore Lane Diuguid started the top of the third on the mound for the Hilltoppers. Diuguid allowed a single but nothing else in the inning. Senior Justin Carlin led off the bottom of the third with a solo home run to center field, cutting the WKU deficit to 6-1. Blomquist singled in the next at bat, but Kirschsieper retired the next three to end the inning.

Diuguid walked the first batter he faced in the top of the fourth before allowing a home run to left center by Comia to bring the Illinois lead to 8-1. The following batter reached on an error before junior Jacob Campbell singled in the next at bat. Diuguid hit the next batter to load the bases, prompting a pitching change to freshman Luke Sinnard. 

Sinnard walked the first batter he faced to push in another run. Harding knocked in another run with an RBI single in the next at bat. Sinnard walked the next batter, pushing in another run to give Illinois a 11-1 lead and prompting a pitching change to junior Wil Moritz. Moritz recorded three outs without allowing any runs to end the inning.

Freshman Ty Batusich led off the bottom of the fourth with a double. Kirschsieper retired the next three batters to end the inning fourth, stranding Batusich at second. 

Comia led off the top of the fifth with a triple. Janas knocked in Comia with an RBI groundout in the next at bat to make it 12-1. Moritz retired the next two to end the frame. The Hiltoppers scored their second run of the day on a sac fly RBI by junior Matthew Meyer, scoring Blomquist who reached on an error earie in the inning, cutting the Hilltopper lead to 12-2. 

Both teams failed to score in the sixth inning as each team stranded a runner on base.

Illinois recorded a walk in the top of the seventh but could not manage anything else in the inning. Blomquist doubled with one out in the bottom of the inning. Fiechter followed with an RBI triple, making it 12-3. 

Pinch hitter McAuliffe followed with a two-out, two-run home run. pinch hitter Evans followed with another home run to cut the deficit to 12-6. The next batter was retired to end the inning.

Illinois recorded a single in the top of the eighth but failed to score once again. WKU went down in order in the bottom of the inning. 

The Illini failed to score in the top of the ninth despite a single and stolen base. The first two Hilltoppers were retired in the bottom of the ninth before Meyer launched a solo home run to extend the game. Illinois retired the next batter to claim a 12-7 victory over the Hilltoppers.

“We’ve gotta flush this one,” Pawlowski said. “We’re gonna regroup, we’ve got practice tomorrow, and we’ve got weights tomorrow, so we’ve got some work to do and we’re gonna continue to get better and find a way to improve our club.”

Up next, WKU will take on Illinois in a doubleheader at Nick Denes Field on Sunday to wrap up the three-game series. The doubleheader will begin at noon CT.

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