Hilltoppers sweep Bulldog Invitational
by Johnny Kraft–
The Western Kentucky baseball team made a statement this past weekend by sweeping the Bulldog Invitational in Athens, Ga.
The Hilltoppers (5-1) defeated the University of Cincinnati, South Alabama and the University of Georgia to sweep the weekend.
“I think its good for our confidence,” said head coach John Pawlowski. “We’ve got a lot of work that we have to do and a lot of positions yet to be filled, but the one ingredient that you can always hope for with any club is that they’re willing to compete and willing to battle.”
Western Kentucky opened the weekend with a 5-2 victory against the University of Cincinnati on Friday.
Redshirt junior first baseman Thomas Peter got things going early against the Bearcats, blasting a two-run homerun in the third inning giving the Hilltoppers a 2-0 lead. The Toppers added two more in the inning on RBI hits by Kaleb Duckworth and Paul Murray.
Western Kentucky never looked back behind the steady work on the mound by senior left-hander Austin King, who earned his first win of the season by striking out six in 6 1/3 innings of work. Redshirt junior Kevin Elder would finish the job picking up his second save of the season.
Western Kentucky came back on Saturday to defeat South Alabama 11-10 in a back and forth affair that saw the Hilltoppers rally for four runs in the ninth to pull out the victory.
Down 8-7 headed into the final frame, the Hilltoppers got an RBI single by junior catcher Hunter Wood to tie the game. Freshman shortstop Steven DiPuglia knocked in Wood with a RBI single to take the lead. Murray capped off the inning with a two-RBI double giving the Toppers an 11-8 lead headed into the bottom half.
South Alabama scored two in the bottom of the ninth, before redshirt junior reliever Jackson Sowell struck out the final batter with the bases loaded to earn the save and hold on to the 11-10 win.
The defining moment of the weekend undoubtedly came in the final game of the weekend, where the Hilltoppers rallied past host Georgia 8-7 in dramatic fashion.
In another back and forth affair, Western Kentucky headed into the ninth inning trailing 7-6. Following a leadoff double by sophomore Steven Kraft, Thomas Peter delivered the biggest hit of the young season with a two-run blast deep into the Georgia night giving the Toppers an 8-7 win to claim the Bulldog Invitational.
“I was lucky to get a good pitch to hit,” Peter said following the game-winning home run. “It felt so good when I got back to the dugout with my teammates. We knew Kevin Elder was going to finish the job, and we were going to get the sweep.”
Elder finished off the Bulldogs in the bottom of the ninth striking out the side to earn his first win of the season to cap off the weekend sweep for the Hilltoppers.
“We talked about going on the road – a different environment and taking new guys on the road,” said Pawlowski. “We wanted to make sure that we competed. Regardless of the score, whether we’re up or down, it’s important for us to put a stamp on how hard we have to play in order to compete and win. They competed, and they played really hard.”
With the sweep, Pawlowski became the first head coach since Nick Denes (1958) to win five of his first six games with the program.
“That’s some fun baseball,” Peter said. “The past two days have been amazing. We just have to keep fighting.”