Hilltoppers fall in series opener at Tulane, Kates pitches second start of season

WKU redshirt sophomore pitcher Jake Kates (21) delivers a pitch during their game against North Dakota State on Sunday, February 21, 2021 in Bowling Green, Ky.

Wyatt Sparkman

For the second time in program history WKU (3-5) faced off against Tulane (4-5) to begin the first road trip of the spring. The Hilltoppers began the weekend Friday night losing 6-5 to the Green Wave. 

The Hilltoppers awarded redshirt sophomore Jake Kates his second start of the season against Tulane. He went on to toss for five innings allowing four runs. 

Tulane called upon redshirt junior Braden Olthoff to kick off the weekend on the mound. Olthoff started in the Green Wave’s previous two series picking up wins against Louisiana at Lafayette and Mississippi State. He tossed for 4.2 innings allowing five runs. 

Senior Matt Phipps went 2-for-3 at the plate, while batting two runs for the Hilltoppers. 

Redshirt freshman Ethan Groff went 1-for-4 and hit the game winning homerun for Tulane in the bottom of the eighth inning.  

“I thought it was a very good college baseball game,” head coach John Pawlowski said in a release. “Both teams are very talented, they just made a couple more plays than we did. I thought, defensively, we had a couple miscues that hurt us a little bit. But, overall I liked the way we competed.”

The Green Wave struck first after the Hilltoppers had nothing to show for in the top of the frame. Redshirt sophomore Jared Hart scored Tulane’s first run on a fielder’s choice after he started the bottom of the first frame with a double. Kates got out of the opening inning with a strikeout. 

The Hilltoppers started the second inning off with a two out rally, getting two straight singles before senior Kevin Lambert batted in Matt Phipps. The Green Wave closed out the second inning with a three up and three down. 

In the top of the third inning, WKU tacked on two more runs to take the lead 3-1. Seniors Richard Constantine and Ray Zuberer III scored for the Hilltoppers. Graduate Davis Sims and Phipps batted in both runners respectively. 

Tulane answered back in the bottom of the frame by scoring off an error by Lambert, but the Green Wave ended the third frame with a ground out leaving two runners in scoring position. 

In the fourth frame, both WKU and Tulane scored on sacrifice plays. Senior Jack Wilson hit a sacrifice fly to score Lambert for WKU and freshman Jacob Laprairie scored Ethan Groff for Tulane.  WKU led 4-3 after four innings of play. 

Both teams scored in the fifth inning off an RBI single. Tulane took out Olthoff as redshirt junior Clifton Slagel came in to relieve him in the top of the frame.  

Redshirt sophomore Mason Vinyard came in to relieve Kates to start the bottom of the sixth frame. Both teams went three up and three down in the sixth inning. 

After WKU had nothing to show for in the top of the sixth frame, Tulane hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh to knot it up at 5 apiece. 

To start the eighth frame, redshirt junior pitcher Justin Campbell came in for Slagel. The Hilltoppers went three up and three down in the top of the eighth frame. Groff hit his first career home run on the first pitch of the bottom of the eighth to give the Green Wave the lead. Tulane led 6-5 after eight innings of work.

To start the ninth, freshman pitcher Zach Devito came in to close the game out for Tulane. The Hilltopper bats had nothing to show for to keep the game alive as the Green Wave held onto a 6-5 lead to win the game. 

“Unfortunately, we didn’t end up on the winning side tonight, so we’ll have to regroup and get ourselves ready to go again tomorrow,” Pawlowski said. 

WKU will be back in action Saturday at 2 p.m. for game two against the Green Wave.

Baseball beat reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Wyatt on Twitter at @WyattSparkman3