CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With only three weeks to go and one win separating 4th-through-8th
place in the Conference USA standings, WKU Baseball travels to Charlotte for a
pivotal three-game series. The Hilltoppers and 49ers will face off from
Friday-to-Sunday at Hayes Stadium, with all three contests to be streamed on
The group of UTSA, Charlotte, UAB, FIU and WKU represents the five clubs bunched up
in the league standings. The top three programs sit three games above the pack and
the bottom four teams are three games under the grouping in the middle. See the full
Conference USA standings
Last season’s three-game set at Nick Denes Field was the first time the Hilltoppers
and 49ers had squared off since the 1980’s. WKU defeated Charlotte (9-4) right
before the 1987 Sun Belt Tournament, then beat the 49ers (10-2) in the opening game
of the 1988 Sun Belt Tournament.
But two decades later, Charlotte came to Bowling Green and swept the Hilltoppers
from April 13-15. The middle game of the series was a 16-5 49er win, but the
bookends were both extra-inning contests that WKU were one swing away from winning.
On Friday night, Hunter Wood tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth on a
two-out triple that scored Colie Currie. Innings later, in the bottom of the 11th,
Paul Murray appeared to have won the game on a two-out, bases-loaded infield single,
but baserunner Grayson Ivey was inexplicably called out at second base on a force
play attempt. In the next half-inning, Charlotte scored a pair of runs for the 6-4,
On Sunday afternoon, lefty starter Evan Acosta limited the 49ers to one run in seven
innings with a career-high five strikeouts, and the game went into extra innings
tied 1-1. In the bottom of the 10th, the Hilltoppers had runners on first and third
with only one out, but Thomas Peter grounded into an inning-ending double play. Just
like Friday night, Charlotte scored two runs in the next frame for the victory, this
time at 3-1 in 11 frames.
After starting out the C-USA slate 5-7, Charlotte has won 2-of-3 in three
consecutive series to move to 11-10 in league play. Overall, the 49ers are 25-19 and
boast wins over Wake Forest (13-1) and No. 4 Arkansas (6-3) at home.
Following an 18-2 victory over Winthrop on Wednesday afternoon, Charlotte moved up
slightly to No. 93 in the RPI ratings, while WKU fell two spots to No. 180 after a
6-0 loss at Austin Peay on Tuesday night.
The top four hitters for the 49ers typically bat in the top four spots of the
lineup; center fielder Reece Hampton, third baseman Jackson Mims, catcher/designated
hitter Harris Yett and left fielder Drew Ober. All four are hitting over .297 with
at least 32 runs scored, 32 RBI and 14 extra-base hits.
As a team, Charlotte ranks second in C-USA with a .292 batting average and leads the
league with only 242 strikeouts with the bats.
The 49ers are likely to keep the starting rotation of lefty Josh Maciejewski, righty
Matt Brooks and lefty Joey Cooner, who have combined to start 20-of-21 C-USA games
for the club. Maciejewski is 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA in seven league starts, striking
out 46 in 48.1 innings with only 11 walks.
Brooks and Cooner have 6.90 and 5.40 ERA’s, respectively, but will not hurt
themselves on the mound. Between them, the pair has combined for only 25 walks in 70
innings, but on the flip side have only struck out 44 with 28 extra-base hits
The Hilltoppers have yet to set their starting pitchers, but have gone with lefty
Ryan Thurston and Paul Kirkpatrick 11 times apiece this year, including all seven
C-USA weekends. Thurston has gone five-plus innings in 10-of-11 starts this season,
while Kirkpatrick was sharp in two innings at Austin Peay on Tuesday following a
short outing last weekend vs. Louisiana Tech.
Lefty Evan Acosta has started two straight Sunday’s for WKU and has proven to be one
of the most improved pitchers on the staff. Compared to 2017, the junior from
Batavia, Ill., has dropped his ERA from 7.02 to 4.04 and batting average against
from .364 to .254. He has allowed only two homeruns in 35.2 innings in 2018 compared
to 10 in 50 frames last year.