BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — For the first time this season, WKU Baseball will play a series away from the friendly confines of Nick Denes Field. The Hilltoppers travel across the Volunteer State border to face Middle Tennessee in their second Conference USA set March 24-26. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday contests in Murfreesboro begin at 6 p.m., 4 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
WKU is coming off a 4-3 midweek loss to No. 19 Kentucky at Bowling Green Ballpark. Even though the Wildcats edged the Hilltoppers, head coach John Pawlowski was pleased with the level of intensity and competition his club was able to bring for all nine innings.
Facing an early 4-0 deficit, WKU chipped away at the lead with two in the bottom of the fourth and another in the eighth as the bullpen held the visitors scoreless for the rest of the game. Kaleb Duckworth led off for the first time this season and had a pair of hits, while Thomas Peter and Hunter Wood also added two knocks apiece.
After their Friday night game vs. UAB was rained out, the Hilltoppers (7-15, 1-2) opened the C-USA season with a doubleheader Saturday, March 18 against the Blazers. WKU won the first game by a score of 9-6, amassing 11 hits and seven earned runs off UAB starter Garrett Whitlock, who had given up only 14 hits and two earned runs in 31.1 innings coming into the contest.
WKU was unable to win the series, however, as the visiting Blazers took the second game of the twin bill as well as the Sunday finale.
Middle Tennessee (8-12, 0-3) had its Tuesday night midweek matchup vs. Lipscomb moved to Wednesday due to inclement weather, and the Bisons defeated the Blue Raiders by a score of 16-2. It was the sixth straight loss for the team, coming off a C-USA series sweep at the hands of Florida Atlantic from March 17-19.
The Blue Raiders have been without their top bat – designated hitter Aaron Aucker – for the past three games, but shortstop Riley Delgado hits leadoff and boasts a .333/.362/.494 slash line. Middle Tennessee owns a team earned run average of 7.80, but their Friday and Saturday starters have held their own thus far. Lefty Jake Wyrick and righty Tyler Hasper have both held opponents under a .200 batting average against, while combining for a 2.93 ERA.
The Friday and Saturday starters have for the Hilltoppers have also shined, as lefty Ryan Thurston and righty Paul Kirkpatrick have each made five starts. Thurston ranks seventh in the nation with 13.97 strikeouts per nine, while Kirkpatrick ranks eighth with only 0.56 walks per nine. WKU is 4-1 when Thurston starts and the bullpen can take a breather when Kirkpatrick toes the rubber, as he boasts outings of 8.1 and 7.2 innings – the longest for the team this season.
The Hilltoppers and Blue Raiders have played 227 times over the past 106 years, dating back to 1911. It is the most storied rivalry in program history, with WKU’s 155-game series against Austin Peay the next-closest. The last four three-game series between WKU and Middle Tennessee have been sweeps; three by the Hilltoppers and one by the Blue Raiders.
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