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SERIES PREVIEW: WKU hosts Illinois State today through Sunday

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Following a pair of midweek games that were very different from one another, WKU Baseball hosts Illinois State for the three-game series at Nick Denes Field. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday contests begin at 3 p.m., 1 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively,

The Hilltoppers defeated Belmont 3-2 on a Grayson Ivey walk-off hit Tuesday, but were on the other side of a walk-off Wednesday in a 16-15, 10-inning loss at Eastern Kentucky. Meanwhile, the Redbirds come to town having not played since Sunday, when they were swept in a doubleheader by Miami (Ohio). After starting the season 2-1, Illinois State has dropped six straight in three-game series at Memphis and Miami (Ohio).

As he has in his first three weekends, head coach John Pawlowski will hand the ball to Ryan Thurston on Friday evening. Thurston is coming off his best performance of the young season March 3, when he pitched 7.1 innings and tied a career high with 11 strikeouts in a 5-4 victory vs. Ohio. The lefty ranks third among Conference USA pitchers with 24 punch outs in 17.2 innings.

The Saturday starter for WKU, Paul Kirkpatrick, can say the same. Kirkpatrick went a team-best 8.1 innings in a 3-0 loss to the same Bobcats on March 4 with two strikeouts and no walks. The righty threw 77-of-102 pitches for strikes, but took the tough-luck loss. Through his first three starts on The Hill, Kirkpatrick has a 6-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18.2 frames, and is 1-of-3 pitchers in the nation with 18-plus innings pitched and zero walks.

Beginning with Thurston on Friday and capped by Evan Acosta’s seven-inning, two-run, five-strikeout performance vs. Belmont on Tuesday, Hilltoppers’ starters went seven-plus innings in 3-of-4 games. So far in 2017, WKU is 4-2 when a starting pitcher throws five-plus innings, and 1-7 when he does not.

The Redbirds are led by sophomore shortstop Owen Miller, who is slashing .333/.333/.548 through nine games with five extra-base hits, while he is tied for second in the nation with two RBI per game (18 total). ISU will start righty Jack Landwehr, lefty Brent Headrick and righty Brady Huffman in the series. WKU’s Sunday starter is TBA at this time.

How to Follow the Hilltoppers: For complete information on WKU Hilltopper Baseball, follow the program via social media @WKUBaseball on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.

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