Kaleb Duckworth hits walk-off homer on opening day

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Representing the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning in WKU Baseball’s season opener vs. Valparaiso, Kaleb Duckworth wasted no time in connecting on a swing for the ages. The junior right fielder deposited a first-pitch fastball into the Hugh Poland Hall parking lot for a two-run tater to give the Hilltoppers a walk-off, 6-5 victory Friday evening at Nick Denes Field.

It was the third time Duckworth had come up to the plate in a crucial situation twice before in the game, popping up with the bases loaded in the first inning, then again with runners on first and third in the seventh. But the third time was clearly the charm, giving WKU its second-consecutive opening day win with game-winning shot inside the left field foul pole.

“I probably needed to have five RBI’s today, but two got the job done,” Duckworth said. “After last year when we didn’t win a lot of games, we wanted to get out here and just win. It’s so fun winning and nobody likes to lose.”

“He had some opportunities early in the game and just wasn’t able to come through for us,” head coachh John Pawlowski said. “But he has been around, he’s a junior who has been in big situations. He stepped up in a big situation tonight and to see what he did, it was certainly exciting.”

Topper Notes

1. It was WKU’s first walk-off homerun since April 23, 2013, when Trevor Lowe ended an 18-inning contest vs. Kentucky with a solo blast and a final score of 3-2. Duckworth notched his 10th-career dinger, which leads all current Hilltoppers.

2. With 17 new faces on the 2017 roster, WKU had a number of them make their debuts on opening day. Colie Currie started in center field and led off, going 1-for-4 with a two-run double in the sixth inning. Freshmen Kevin Lambert and Ray Zuberer III started at third and second base, respectively, and combined to reach base four times in eight plate appearances with three runs scored.

3. A familiar face, Thomas Peter, made his return to the diamond after missing a majority of the 2016 season with a hamstring injury. Peter was slotted as the designated hitter and batted third, going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles to left field.

4. The owner of a 24-game on-base streak in 2016, Steven Kraft started out this campaign doing more of the same. Kraft went 2-for-3 with a double, while also adding one walk and one hit by pitch. Hit one-out single to center field in the ninth inning started the Hilltoppers’ game-winning rally.

5. The last three pitchers out of the WKU bullpen – Conner Boyd Logan Weins and Bailey Sutton – went a combined 3.1 scoreless innings while allowing only one hit. Boyd inherited a bases-loaded situation in the sixth inning and induced a fly out. The freshman Sutton came out amped up and walked his first two hitters, but regrouped and retired his final two to earn the victory.

Play of the Day
Well, other than the obvious choice, Paul Murray’s pinch-hit, RBI double in the bottom of the ninth brought Duckworth to the plate with a chance to win the game. Murray laced a line drive into right-center field facing a 3-2 count on the seventh pitch of his at-bat, driving in Steven Kraft with WKU’s fourth run of the night. Murray was replaced on the base paths by pinch runner Tyler Robertson, and Duckworth ended the game on the next pitch.

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