BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Five scoreless innings from the bullpen gave WKU Baseball a chance to knock off No. 19 Kentucky on Tuesday night. The Hilltoppers could not quite overcome a four-run deficit, however, falling to the Wildcats by a score of 4-3 at Bowling Green Ballpark. Kaleb Duckworth, Thomas Peter and Hunter Wood had two hits apiece, with the right fielder scoring two runs and the backstop driving in a pair.
The visiting Wildcats (16-6) got out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the third after a two-run homerun by center fielder Marcus Carson, then added another in the fourth inning on an RBI single from Troy Squires. But that was the last run the Lexington bunch would plate, as the WKU bullpen allowed only four hits in the final five innings, while striking out nine and stranding 11 runners.
Facing a 4-0 deficit, the Hilltoppers got two back in the bottom of the fourth. After a leadoff single by Peter followed by a Steven Kraft walk, Nathan Methvin moved the two over with a ground ball to set the table for Wood. The senior lined the first pitch through the middle to score both and get WKU back in the game.
Devon Loomis relieved starter Jeff Ciocco to begin the fifth inning and fired two scoreless frames with three strikeouts. Michael Hicks, Logan Weins and Kevin Elder combined to complete the seventh and eighth innings – with 5-of-6 outs on strikes – to set the stage for the offense to fire back.
WKU got two baserunners on in both the sixth and seventh frames and were not able to cash in, but the hosts finally broke through in the eighth. Peter got it started again with an infield single, and advanced to second on a throwing error by Kentucky reliever Chris Machamer.
Kraft followed with a single to center and Peter raced home to make it a 4-3 game. Two batters later, Colie Currie kept the inning alive with a two-out single to left, but Wildcats’ reliever Zach Pop was able to strand two runners escape the inning with a one-run lead.
Conner Boyd continued an impressive start to his Hilltoppers’ career, striking out Kentucky first baseman Gunnar McNeill with the bases loaded to keep it a one-run game heading into the bottom of the ninth. WKU (7-15) was retired in order in the final frame, however, as the Wildcats won in Bowling Green Ballpark for the first time in five tries dating back to 2010.
1. “We battled tonight and I’m proud of our guys. Nobody can walk out of here and say we didn’t play hard and compete hard,” head coach John Pawlowski said. “Everyone’s disappointed we didn’t win the game, but I told them one thing we can take from this is how hard you have to play and compete. If we do that we have a chance against anyone on our schedule.”
2. “Our staff did really well tonight and it’s a confidence-booster playing against a good squad like that and competing,” Boyd said. “We’re starting to realize how well we can play baseball and hopefully we take take it into this weekend at Middle and get a few more wins.”
3. “I think we played one of our best games tonight, honestly,” Duckworth said. “We were squaring balls up tonight and our pitchers threw really well. You can’t win every time you play your good game, but if we can play like this against the No. 19 team in the country we should be able to turn this thing around.”
Play of the Day
Conner Boyd entered the game as he has many times this season: with multiple runners on base. With Kentucky runners on first and second in the ninth inning with no outs, Boyd got back-to-back Wildcats to fly to center fielder Colie Currie. After hitting Troy Squires with a 2-2 pitch to load the bases, followed by a lengthy discussion by the umpires and head coach John Pawlowski, Boyd gathered himself and proceeded to strike out Gunnar McNeill swinging on three pitches and add an exclamation point with an emotional fist pump as he went off the mound. The submariner has now stranded 19-of-22 inherited runners this season.
What’s Up Next
After starting their season with five straight home series, the Hilltoppers will spend their first weekend away from Nick Denes Field, traveling to Murfreesboro to take on Middle Tennessee. The three-game series will be from Friday, March 24 to Sunday, March 26 at Reese Smith, Jr. Field. The Blue Raiders have an 8-11 (0-3) record, and were swept by Florida Atlantic in the opening Conference USA series of 2017.
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