HATTIESBURG, Miss. — WKU Baseball held on to an early lead with timely pitching to
defeat No. 13 Southern Miss by a score of 7-1 on Saturday afternoon. Starter Ryan
Thurston spun six innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts and zero extra-base
For the second straight game, Steven Kraft led off with a single on the first pitch.
He would come around to score in the first inning when Richard Constantine lifted a
two-out single to right field, giving the Hilltoppers (15-15, 5-6) a 1-0 lead.
In the third, Nick Brunson got things started with a double to right-center, then a
walk to Kraft and a Jacob Rhinesmith single loaded the bases for Colie Currie. The
senior ripped a single down the right-field line to score a pair, his 17th and 18th
RBI of the year.
With runners on the corners, Constantine brought home Rhinesmith when he reached on
an error by the first baseman. After a Tyler Robertson fly ball moved Currie to
third, Luke Brown lined a two-out single to left field to push the WKU lead to 5-0.
The following inning, Brunson led off with his second hit of the game – a single
through the left side – and came home two batters later when Rhinesmith smacked a
homerun over the left-field wall.
It was the 10th long ball of the year for the JuCo transfer from Indian Hills
Community College, as he became only the second player in Division I this season
(Bren Spillane of Illinois, 14-12) to reach double-digit homeruns and stolen bases
With a 7-0 lead, Thurston kept rolling. Although he had only one 1-2-3 frame, he
halted every Southern Miss (21-9, 7-3) opportunity to inch closer as the game went
Perhaps the hosts’ best chance came in the bottom of the fifth, when three
consecutive two-out singles loaded the bases for the dangerous Matt Wallner.
Wallner entered the game with three grand slams over the past two weeks, but after a
quick chat with head coach John Pawlowski, Thurston went right after the slugger and
struck him out swinging on high heat.
The Golden Eagles did push a run across in the sixth, but were unable to score any
more, with Thurston stranding runners on the corners.
That would be the final work for Thurston, as the senior exited after 121 pitches –
including 68 for strikes. He walked four and allowed six singles, but induced two
4-6-3 ground-ball double plays.
With seven strikeouts, Thurston reached 269 for his career on The Hill. The lefty
passed Ryan Hutchinson (264, 1998-2001) for second all-time in program history. The
leader, Matt Ridings, is all-but-unreachable for Thurston, as he amassed 354 for the
Hilltoppers from 2007-10.
From the bullpen, righty Conner Boyd got the first out of the seventh inning then
gave way to lefty Austin Tibbs.
Tibbs completed the final 2.2 innings on 39 pitches – both career-high marks –
striking out four while allowing only a pair of hits. In the eighth frame, the
transfer from Kentucky Wesleyan struck out the side swinging, in order, on 16
Although he allowed the first Golden Eagles’ extra-base hit of the day in the ninth
to LeeMarcus Boyd, he was stranded on third on a game-ending fly out to Rhinesmith
in center field to clinch the 7-1 victory.
* It was the first WKU win over a ranked team since a 7-3 game at No. 3
Louisville on April 22, 2015.
* The victory broke a nine-game losing streak to the Golden Eagles, as WKU
improved to 2-9 in the all-time series.
* WKU improved to 6-5 in away games, already eclipsing the team’s 5-17 road
record from 2017.
* Southern Miss had not been held under two runs in a regular-season home game
since a 2-0 loss on March 10, 2017 vs. Xavier; a span of 40 games in-between.
* Meanwhile, the seven runs scored by the Hilltoppers’ lineup was the most in
any of the 11 games against the Golden Eagles.
* In his third start on The Hill, Nick Brunson recorded his first multi-hit and
* Steven Kraft went 1-for-2 and tied a career high with three walks to push his
on-base streak to 20 games. With that day at the plate, along with a 3-for-5 game
to begin the series, Kraft improved his on-base percentage from .467 to .490.
* Jacob Rhinesmith is the first Hilltopper with at least a 10-10 season since
2009, when Wade Gaynor (25-23), Chad Cregar (17-21) and Matt Hightower (11-25) all
accomplished the feat.
* Although his six-game hit streak was halted with an 0-for-5 performance to
begin the series, Luke Brown bounced back with a 2-for-4 day at the plate. The
freshman has knocked two hits in six of his past eight starts.
* “After playing that first game, we talked about how we didn’t handle the ball
very well and didn’t play very well. But I thought we did a tremendous job today.
I’m proud of the way we played, coming back after losing that first game.” — Head
coach John Pawlowski
* “Ryan Thurston has continually gone out there and done what he’s capable of
doing and Austin Tibbs did a tremendous job out of the bullpen. Offensively, we
took some really good swings against some really good arms of Southern Miss.” —
Head coach John Pawlowski
WKU and No. 13 Southern Miss face off in the rubber match on Sunday at 1 p.m. It
will be righties Paul Kirkpatrick and Walker Powell opposing each other on the
The Hilltoppers are 3-0 in the final game of Conference USA series, and with a win
would match their 16 overall wins and six league wins from 2017. It will be an
incredible challenge, however, as the Golden Eagles have won seven consecutive
series at Pete Taylor Park and 13 of their past 14 series in C-USA play.