HOUSTON, Texas — WKU Baseball’s first Conference USA challenge is on the horizon, as
the Hilltoppers take on Rice for a three-game set from starting today. The series at
Reckling Park will begin with first pitch Friday at 6:30 p.m. and all three
contests will be streamed on CUSA.tv.
The Hilltoppers will look to reverse history, having not defeated Rice since
back-to-back wins March 9 and 10 in 1990. The Owls lead the all-time series against
the Hilltoppers by a 15-2 margin, including all nine game between the teams since
WKU joined C-USA prior to the 2015 season.
In each of the past three series there has been a doubleheader, but it does not look
like it will be that way this weekend in Houston with expected temperatures in the
Rice (9-14, 0-3) has lost four consecutive games, including its first three in
league play at Louisiana Tech.
Shortstop Ford Proctor leads the Owls in hitting, as the junior is slashing
.398/.495/.554 with 17 runs scored and 20 RBI. At the plate, he has drawn a
C-USA-high 19 walks compared to 20 strikeouts, but has also committed a league-high
nine errors in the field.
Friday night pins WKU lefty Ryan Thurston against Rice righty Matt Canterino.
Thurston boasts 37 strikeouts in 31.1 innings with a 2.30 ERA, while Canterino has
punched out 41 in 29 frames but sports a 4.97 ERA.
The Hilltoppers will follow with righties Colby Taylor and Paul Kirkpatrick, while
the Owls counter with righties Kendal Jefferies and Addison Moss. WKU is a combined
6-3 when Taylor or Kirkpatrick starts, while Jefferies and Moss boast ERA’s of 1.69
and 2.18, respectively.
WKU (10-11, 1-2) goes into the series on a 1-4 slide despite out-hitting or tying
the opposing teams in hits in all five games. In their first C-USA series, the
Hilltoppers bounced back from a pair of one-run losses to Middle Tennessee with a
10-7 victory on Sunday.
Sandwiching the set against the Blue Raiders were a 7-5 loss to Eastern Kentucky
and, most recently, an 8-5 dropped decision vs. No. 15 Louisville.
Second baseman Steven Kraft and designated hitter Ray Zuberer III carry the WKU
offense into the weekend. Kraft boasts a 10-game hit streak while Zuberer has a hit
in nine straight contests and has reached base in 13 consecutive games.
With three base knocks against the Cardinals on Wednesday, Kraft overtook center
fielder Jacob Rhinesmith for the team’s top batting average with a .383 mark.
Rhinesmith still leads the Hilltoppers with a .700 slugging percentage, including a
league-leading eight homeruns.